By Michael McMullan
SUNDAY is the sixth meeting of champions Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s on Donegal senior final day and the honours are even.
The first meeting, the 2005 decider, was decided after a replay which saw the Glenties side clinch a first title.
Brendan Devenney was on the losing side that day, but kicked two points in Letterkenny’s 2009 win over Naomh Conaill before managing them to glory when the sides met in the decider three years later.
The last meeting in the decider was a 0-11 to 0-10 win for Naomh Conaill in 2015 on the day St Eunan’s last reached the final.
The champions are aiming to claim their first three-in-a-row, a feat St Eunan’s claimed in 2009 when Devenney lifted the Dr Maguire Cup.
“Naomh Conaill are the standard bearers, with five finals in a row,” Devenney said. “St Eunan’s are a bit of an unknown and for a few of these lads, it is their first county final for the vast majority of them. You have the old masters against the young pretenders in some way.
“What Naomh Conaill do, they are brilliant at it. It is certainly not the type of football I like. If you are going to come up against it, you have to be brilliant at taking it apart and be someone as good as a Corofin, or you’ve got to use some version of it.”
That’s the challenge Rory Kavanagh, in his first year as St Eunan’s manager, against a side that are masters at playing their own brand of football.
Devenney points to the semi-final win over Kilcar were they ‘bossed’ the game, but had to hang on near the end.
“They don’t concede many scores and they don’t score a lot either,” Devenney said of the system of play Naomh Conaill persisted with during heavy defeats in the 2017 and 2018 finals.
“I thought that tactic had seen it’s day, rather than change, they came back and got better at what they did which is a full blanket defence,” he said.
It was enough to take Gaoth Dobhair’s Ulster title and they went all the way to an Ulster decider which they lost to Kilcoo who Devenney feels are in the bracket of All-Ireland contenders.
“They (Naomh Conaill) have all that experience in behind them and that’s why they are going into this game as favourites,” said Devenney who refers to Sunday’s game as ‘almost like a derby’ with form not mattering too much.
“I can see it coming down to who is the best at what they do and of small margins. It is going to be keep ball and numbers back. That’s what club football is like in Donegal.”