Downings carrying Donegal hopes against Sean McDermott’s

By Shaun Casey

SATURDAY’S Ulster Junior Championship semi-final will be a family affair for Donegal champions Downings. Six sets of brothers, even more cousins and an uncle with two nephews will charge into battle against Sean McDermott’s of Monaghan, with the hope of reaching a first-ever provincial decider.

Siblings Oisin and Shane Boyce form the centerfield pairing, John McGroddy often finds his brother Keelan with kick-outs and James Lee McBride flanks his uncle Danny on the half-forward line.

“We’re from a small parish here in Downings. There’s not many people live here so nearly everybody’s connected in the team, cousins or brothers, so we’re a tightknit group,” explained captain Ben McNutt.

“There’s a lot of young boys came in there in the last couple of years that would be cousins and brothers of boys that have played. We’re a tight team and it’s exciting for those young fellas too.

“We were in the championship final last season; we didn’t get over the line unfortunately. So, we came back this season and it’s their first time winning a trophy and hopefully now, getting to an Ulster final would be a massive achievement for the whole team and the whole club.”

The Tir Chonaill men have represented their county twice before at provincial level and stand as the only Donegal team remaining in both the hurling and football championships. They are one win away from a historic occasion for the club and the Downings defender sees that as a huge privilege.

“Our club has been there twice before, I was involved both times, but it just doesn’t come around too often. That was 2012 and 2016 so it’s been a big gap for us to get back into Ulster and a massive honour. Especially being the only Donegal team left in the competition, it’s a great honour to carry the flag for the whole county.

“Our aim at the start of the year was only to win our championship and anything on top of that is a bonus. Now that you’re in the semi-final and our club’s never been past the semi-final stage, it would be a bit of history for ourselves to go on and make it to the final.

“Of course, you want to make it to the final now we’ve got this far but we’re coming up against a strong Sean McDermott’s in the semi-final, so we’ll need to be at ourselves to get past them.”

Sean McDermott’s head into the encounter with the advantage of having two games in the competition under their belts. They started their journey with a preliminary round win over Tyrone representatives Cookstown before seeing off Armagh champions Belleek to make the last four.

“It shows the standard Sean McDermott’s are at. Probably the two games will have stuck to them, a bit more experience and a bit more game time. Hopefully the boys can pull together now and get a top performance on Saturday”.

The Monaghan champions have Niall Kearns in their ranks, a 2018 All-Star nomination and the top scorer so far in the Ulster Junior Championship with 13 points. While Downings will be mindful of the midfielder’s presence, McNutt insists his side can’t get too carried away with the opposition.

“Of course, we need to take note of him, he’s a great footballer but we’re trying to focus on ourselves too, what we can do well and try not to focus on Sean McDermott’s too much.

“Sometimes if you focus on the other team too much you get caught up in it and you forget about your own game. We’re hoping to just go in and do what we do well. Of course, we’ll be thinking of their top players but if we can do the things we do well, hopefully that’ll be enough to get us over the line.

“We’ve only seen them (Sean McDermott’s) in whatever games they’ve played in Ulster this year, that you can watch online. Other than that, we’ve had no dealings with them before. I suppose they’re in the same boat as us, they wouldn’t really know us apart from whatever games they can get of us playing”.

The challenge of facing the unknown excites the Donegal champions, and McNutt believes it can only improve his side.

“That’s the excitement of Ulster as well, you’re not going in against boys you’re playing against every year. You’re challenging yourself against different counties and different styles of football. That only brings you on as a player and a team.”

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