By Shaun Casey
A HUGE second half from Letterkenny Gaels allowed them to edge past Derrynoose and set up a quarter-final date with Tyrone Intermediate champions Stewartstown.
The Donegal men came from seven points down at the half time break to win by the minimum of margins, helped by a goal from substitute Brendan O’Brien. But a repeat of that poor first half showing could spell the end of the season suggests joint-manager Paul Melaugh.
“We’re going to play Stewartstown and we’ll give them the respect they deserve,” said Melaugh, who manages the team alongside Dougie Corbett. “But we’ll also be going to get a performance and if that performance on the day is good enough then so be it.
“If Stewartstown win, they win and if we win with that performance then we’ll be very, very happy. But we won’t be able to have the first half performance that we had against Derrynoose because too many players weren’t performing and that’s the reality in football.
“There’s only so much you can do on the line. You can make a few switches and a few changes and sometimes they work for you and sometimes they don’t, and I think it all has to go down to the players.
“It was the players’ attitude, the players mentality and their approach, their press on the Derrynoose kick-out. You can tell them to do it but it’s up to them, they’re the people that have to do it and their work rate was immense in that second half and that was the platform for our victory.”
Sunday’s showdown between the pair won’t be their first meeting of the season, however and Letterkenny Gaels have already suffered one defeat to Stewartstown as the sides clashed during the Ulster League at the beginning of the year.
“We played Stewartstown already earlier in the year in the Ulster League and they’re a formidable side,” add Melaugh. “People will probably tell you that they’re favourites to win the All-Ireland Junior.
“They beat us 3-11 to 0-8 on a cold Saturday morning back in February. They have a lot of good players, and they probably weren’t at full strength the day we played, and we weren’t at full strength either.”
That will have little bearing this weekend though and Melaugh insists his side are focusing on their own performance. “We’ll hopefully compete with them and if we get the performance and if they play below par then maybe we might nick it but it’s going to be a tight game.
“It will probably go down to the wire, I can’t imagine either team running away with the game. It’s about character at this time of the year when you come into these weather conditions. These breezy days, wet days.
“Are you up for it? Do you want it? Do you have the hunger for it? All those things will play a part in it. Our preparation will be to try and prepare the boys as well as possible.”