By Michael McMullan
WHEN you’ve been in seven of the last eight county finals, you must be doing something right and Donegal champions Naomh Conaill take that level of consistency into Sunday’s clash with Antrim giants Cargin.
After losing last year’s final by 10 points to St Eunan’s, Martin Regan’s charges are top dogs again and Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí points to the influence of the experienced heads in the squad.
“It is a good record,” he said, referring to the Dr Maguire Cup having the club’s blue and white ribs on it four times in the last eight seasons.
The Donegal player was just six years of age when the club won their first senior title and has been inspired by their championship tradition.
“Some the older boys are on the road now for 17 or 18 years. They have pulled us with them,” he said.
One of the leaders, Marty Boyle, has over 100 championship senior appearances for the club with Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and Leo McLoone joining him on Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland winning team.
“There is some experience between them (the team) and we are lucky to have lads who have been there and done it a few times,” Mac Ceallabhuí added.
“We have a few players who have done it at county level too, so we have a lot of experience in the group.”
He feels the hurt of losing last year’s final by double digits will never fully go away. Being one of the few teams to lose a final by that margin doesn’t sit well.
Glenswilly had 16 points to spare over Killybegs in 2013, with Naomh Conaill 10-point winners over the same opponents in three years earlier.
Mac Ceallabhuí points to their 1-11 to 2-8 draw with Glenswilly in the group stages this season as the turning point.
“We had a decision to make, to really buy in and go at it or lie down at that stage,” he said.
“With the group we have and the bucks we have, a mixture of old and young, we pulled it together and got there.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing in their 2-10 to 0-10 quarter-final win over Glenswilly after being under the cosh in the first half with Michael Murohy’s side turning the heat up on goalkeeper Stephen McGrath’s kick-outs.
“The way they pushed up on us on the day and had the gameplan well executed. They had us on the back foot and we couldn’t get out of our own half…they got it right and we weren’t up for it,” he said of their tricky situation.
By the time they got to the final, points from Brendan McDyer and Ciaran Thompson helped them to victory over St Eunan’s who lost Shane O’Donnell to a controversial red
“We really showed up in the final. We were big underdogs and had a lot to prove,” Mac Ceallabhuí said.
“From the year before, we had a lot to show after we got hammered out the gate. Coming in this year, we were really hungry and it was one we really wanted.”
Now it’s time to give Ulster a shake, something they didn’t target at the start of the season given the competitive nature of the Donegal scene.
“Over the last two weeks, we have really turned our attention to this now and we’ll hopefully give it a good rattle.
“They (Cargin) have six from eight (championships) and they have the knowhow when it comes to winning, but we are looking forward to it.”