By Niall Gartland
WHILE Donegal lost last year’s Ulster Championship final to Armagh by a point after extra time, a lot has changed in the intervening period.
Manager Maxi Curran, who has been on the line for an incredible 16 Ulster finals (between two stints as ladies boss, his five-year involvement with the men’s team between 2011 and 2016, and underage teams), points out that 16 of last year’s team have moved on and unsurprisingly that’s had a detrimental impact on results.
They didn’t pick up a single victory in Division One and were subsequently relegated. Armagh by contrast are yet to lose a single game all season and they’ve already accounted for Donegal in the round robin of the Ulster Championship. Going for four in-a-row and with the likes of Aimee Mackin in their pomp, this is a big ask for Donegal, who did at least manage to pick up a narrow win over Cavan a number of weeks ago.
Curran said: “We’ve played Armagh a lot in recent Ulster finals. It’s a two-two split so it’s been even in that respect albeit they’ve had the better of things in the last few years.
“This is probably the first game where we really have been raging underdogs given we were relegated from Division One and they were promoted from Division Two. The tables have turned but it’s nice in a way to go in as underdogs.
“The Cavan game was massive for us as that was the first game we’ve won all season. It’s been a rebuilding job for us, we lost 16 players over the winter so our younger girls have had to learn very fast and Division One proved a bridge too far.
“It’s a bit of a new era for Donegal, a lot of household names have moved on and a bit of a rebuild is going on. Armagh have won every single game they’ve played so there’s no doubt they are the form team.”
The game was expected to be played at Clones, the home of Ulster football, but the venue had to be switched to Owenbeg in Derry due to a fixtures clash. Not that it bothers Curran.
“Owenbeg is a fabulous establishment and it’s a credit to the Derry County Board that they’ve built a bespoke venue like that. They’ve done great work and the venue is the same for both teams so it’s irrelevant in a way where it’s played.
“It’s about who handles the occasion the best, it’s probably Armagh’s to lose given they’re going for four in a row and it’ll be a mammoth task for us.”