Nickey Rackard Cup final
Donegal v Wicklow
Saturday, Croke Park, pm, Live on TG4
By Shaun Casey
DONEGAL have built up some final experience this year, nothing to the magnitude of an All-Ireland decider in Croke Park, but still, that know-how could come in handy this weekend.
Mickey McCann’s men won the Conor McGurk Cup, breezing past Ulster University 5-28 to 0-21, and reached the Division 2B league final as well, although they lost to Meath on that occasion.
Sharpshooter Brian McIntyre hopes those outings stand to his side this weekend when they face Wicklow in the Nickey Rackard Cup final.
“We do have a wee bit of experience I suppose” said McIntyre. “The Conor McGurk final was good, but we played Meath in the Division 2B league final, which was big for us. I think it might have been the first time Donegal got to the 2B final, so it was a pretty big day.
“We didn’t perform too badly now, we competed well. We were disappointed in the end, they pulled away a small bit but they’re a quality side and they’re in the Christy Ring final now so it’s no shame being beat by them.
“But we do have that experience this year. We had a disappointing day last year against Tyrone in the semi-final, they beat us. Hopefully that changes this year, it would be great to get a win.
“It’ll be my first time playing in Croke Park and the first time for a lot of the lads, so we’ll try to enjoy that as much as possible but there’s still a game to be played.
“I think the best thing to do is to try and forget about it completely and just act like you’re training in a club pitch or something but that’s going to be very hard to do.
“Anyone that I’ve chatted to that played in it before, they say that’s the kind of way that you have to go about it. If you’re thinking about it the whole time you can get overawed, and it’ll drain energy from you more than anything.”
Donegal know all there is to know about Wicklow. Saturday’s clash in HQ will be the fourth time this season that the sides have crossed paths. In the league, Wicklow were convincing 2-24 to 0-11 victors in round four.
But the sides met again in the league semi-final and this time Donegal sneaked through with a point to spare. Their most recent clash, two weeks ago, was a dead-rubber match-up in the final round of the Nickey Rackard, when both sides were already qualified for the final.
“It’s strange, it’s not too often that two teams play each other four times in the one year but I suppose last week when we played them, it was different teams, different players,” added McIntyre.
“But the first time we played them they gave us an absolute lesson in Letterkenny. Then we went down to Aughrim and we managed to beat them. It’s a funny situation but they are a very, very good team and we’re looking forward to getting another crack at them.
“Anyone that was playing (in the dead rubber), you wanted to perform well, we’re all trying to get spots on the team, so it was important in that sense. I was playing and I know the lads were just trying to do as well as they could to make an impression on the management team.
“You’re mad to get starting in the final now so I wouldn’t take much from the result but personally you always want to perform well, and you want the team to perform well so it was important that way.”
There’s fierce competition for places in the Donegal team, although they’ll likely be without one of their star performers. Declan Coulter broke his thumb the last day out, so is unlikely to line out in Croke Park this weekend.
“The squad depth is very good. Declan’s a massive loss because he’s one of the best hurlers in Ulster, he’s real quality and he’s been flying this year. When you lose someone like Declan, it’s hard to replace him with the same quality.
“But in fairness, for every line in the field, we’ve got replacements that are more than able and that day that we beat Wicklow, we were actually short a lot of men and that was a day that a load of young lads stepped up and done well.
“I know we’ll be missing Declan and maybe another few but we’re hoping everyone else steps up because there is quality there.
“I think that’s kind of the way it’s been, you’ve got Liam McKinney, Conor Gartland, Steven McBride, and Ruairi Campbell, those boys are all fantastic hurlers and they’re only early 20s, if even.
“For them to be doing it at county senior level at that age is seriously impressive. Them boys are leading it now and hopefully they can have another big day on Saturday.”