Youthful Donegal side search for fourth Nickey Rackard title


THE Donegal hurlers begin their Nickey Rackard campaign this weekend with a trip to the Box-IT Athletic Grounds to face Armagh as they look to win the competition for a fourth time.

Mickey McCann’s side have been coming up short in recent years since their most recent triumph in 2020, and since then the team has seen a lot of new faces come in.

Of that team who beat Mayo in Croke Park, only six of the starters have featured this year, while Bernard Lafferty and Conor O’Grady came off the bench and Declan Coulter, Ronan McDermott and Danny Cullen are yet to return from injury.

There are still plenty of veterans in the squad, but a large chunk of the panel includes players in their early twenties.

Current Donegal captain Conor Gartland was 17 the last time Donegal won the championship, while vice-captain Steven McBride was 18.

But the pair have taken on the responsibility entrusted by McCann this year and are the future for the county.

“It was only a couple of years ago I joined the panel and we’re wanting to be winning this again,” Gartland said.

“I’d say not even half the panel have (won the Nickey Rackard). There’s a lot of young blood and a lot of lads have stepped away, even from the final from last year we’re down eight of the 15 starters and that’s massive but we have coped well.

“This weekend we’ll have Declan Coulter back hopefully, Ronan McDermott and Danny (Cullen) won’t be back yet but they’re back training and it’s a bit of a morale boost to see them boys back.

“There’s savage competition to even get your name in the 26, never mind the 15 and Mickey has been saying that to us that it’s never really happened before in Donegal hurling that there is a big squeeze to get a spot in the panel.

“These boys coming back in will be working their way back onto the team, there’ll be nobody walking into the team with how the boys have been playing.”

Donegal have had a good start to the year so far and once again targeted winning the Conor McGurk Cup, which they did so successfully.

A top three finish in Division 2B was next on the agenda to obtain promotion with the league restructure and they achieved that as they finished second behind Derry.

But a one-point loss to Tyrone in the league semi-final three weeks ago, minus a host of key Setanta players who were out of the country, was their last competitive game.

Since January, McCann and his charges have always had the championship in the back of their mind and after last year’s final loss to Wicklow, there will be even more of a want to bring the title back to Donegal.

They begin with that trip to the Orchard County and the Burt clubman is expecting a good battle.

“Preparation has gone well and we were away on a training weekend so the mood is good in the camp and we’re ready to go for the championship.

“Last year I personally believe the scoreline flattered us. I knocked in a goal at the end which put a bit of an extra cushion on us but Armagh missed a few frees and they weren’t as clinical as they could have been and it was definitely closer than it looked.

“We’re under no illusions about Armagh, they’re a solid team and they’ll be hungry for it so we’ll have to prepare as best we can.

“We’ll want to be beating Armagh in the first week and then Mayo are going to be tough, they’ll be one of our biggest competitors in this championship.”

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW