BY RYAN FERRY
Odhran Doherty was sidelined for the challenging first few months of the season but his return to the team has helped Donegal to get their campaign back on track.
Doherty has had somewhat of an unusual footballing career.
He didn’t play minor or Under 20 football for the county and had to bide his time to even break through into the Naomh Conaill first string.
However, once he managed to find his way into the Glenties 15 it wasn’t long before other doors started to open and he was called into the Donegal development squad under Declan Bonner.
He has had injuries and didn’t feature over the last two seasons, and it looked at one stage like 2023 might be a write off too.
The Fintown man played against Monaghan in the McKenna Cup in January but didn’t feature again until the clash against Clare in the All-Ireland Series in May.
The early Ulster defeat against Down allowed plenty of time for tinkering and Doherty was one of the main beneficiaries.
He has been used as the ‘plus one’ in defence in the last three games, helping to cut out passes into the full-forward line while also doubling up with teammates in the tackle.
Doherty is still not at 100% full fitness but he’s enjoying the summer ball.
“I tore a tendon in my hamstring in January time during the McKenna Cup.
“I was out for three and-a-half months which is a long time.
“It was hard to watch especially during the league when things weren’t going that well.
“I worked hard to get back and it’s nice to get playing now and do my bit.”
Few gave Donegal a chance of beating Monaghan last Saturday in Omagh but the team delivered and secured second seed in the preliminary quarter-final draw.
It’s usually attritional fare when Donegal meet Monaghan and there isn’t much space to work with.
That wasn’t the case last week as it developed into a scorefest, and Donegal kicked some stunning scores over the course of the match.
“I thought it might be a cagey affair where you would have seven or eight points max at half-time.
“We seemed to click. I thought we controlled the game well. They were tagging on scores as well but I felt our forward play was very good.
“Defensively we maybe let them in a bit too easily and that’s something we will look at.
“But our forwards were exceptional and everything just seemed to work up front.
“Everyone has to do their bit. You can see it in training over the last four or five weeks, everyone is there and working really, really hard.
“We’re all together as one group and we’re tagging along nicely now.
“We had great energy. Jamie was coming back and making tackles and we were able to counter fast.
“Farrah (Oisin Gallen) was on fire against Derry and he had another good game, and Daire Ó Baoill played exceptionally well in the first half.
“We have plenty of good forwards in the team.”
Doherty landed one of the best scores of the game in the first half.
Donegal forced a turnover on Gary Mohan and broke quickly with Jamie Brennan picking out Doherty with a sensational cross-field pass.
There was still plenty of work to do but the young soldier, who is based at Finner Camp, coolly curled over.
“To be honest, I was just thinking ‘you better catch this ball’.
“No it was a worldie of a ball from Jamie. I didn’t think he was going to pass it to me.
“Thankfully I caught it and she went over the bar.”
Monaghan did come back strongly at Donegal but they held on for a win that will really boost morale within the camp and the county in general.
“There were probably a few nerves.
“We started to drop a few short and they got a couple of points. We knew they would come back at some stage.
“We just had to settle things down and we got a couple of scores which helped us.
“They put the pressure on but thankfully we kept them out.”
Donegal may have felt that they would get an easier draw when they earned second spot, but that was before Sunday’s drama occurred.
They have been paired with Tyrone and that certainly won’t be simple.
However, the key point is that they will have the game at home, and the team are backing themselves to get the win in Ballybofey.
“Home advantage is massive for us.
“We wanted to make sure we finished second in the group because we didn’t want to go away.
“Nobody likes coming to MacCumhaill Park and I think everybody knows that.
“Hopefully now we can get a big crowd behind us and take it from there.
“We won’t fear anyone in MacCumhaill Park.
“Tyrone are a strong team with great players and we will have to play well to come through it.”