By Michael McMullan
GAOTH Dobhair manager Rónán Mac Niallais feels the format of the Donegal Senior Football championship has received some unfair criticism.
Mac Niallais, in his first year as manager, was speaking ahead of their rematch with Dungloe in the preliminary quarter-final after narrowly beating their rivals in the final round robin game.
In a league campaign, where Dáire Ó Baoill was only available for one of their 13 games, Mac Niallais feels for smaller clubs without the resources to absorb the loss of county players.
“Once you pick up enough points in the league and are safe, then
teams are happy enough then,” he said.
“We targeted trying to get to the league final but it didn’t work out for us unfortunately.
“People are criticising the format of the championship in Donegal but, to me and to the players, you are guaranteed five championship games and it makes up for the lack of competitiveness in the league,” Mac Niallais continued.
He points to the “crazy minute” against Aodh Ruadh and the concession of two goals costing his side a spot in the top four.
Going into their final group game with Dungloe, there was a chance of making the top four and a quarter-final spot but they needed other results to do them a favour.
“We also knew that if we won there would be a very strong possibility of getting Dungloe again,” Mac Niallais said.
“We did the maths and knew it with be them or Glenfin…it’s not ideal,” he added of their rematch.
“You don’t want to be playing the same team in a championship never mind twice in a row, especially not your local rivals that you have a colourful history with.”
Mac Niallais, who shares the management role with Francie Friel, praised the depth of their squad that has been without Ó Baoill, Ódhran McFadden-Ferry and Cian Mulligan at different stages.
Mulligan played in the first three games before his move to Australia with Ó Baoill possibly coming back into the fold ahead of his impending return to Ireland.
“Not many clubs can take a hit like that of losing three inter-county players, it is a serious hit,” Mac Niallais said.
“In fairness, a few young lads have come through this year and stepped up so we are happy with their progress and what they have brought to us as a team.
“Maybe if it doesn’t work out this year, they’ll have had great exposure going into the next couple of
Mac Niallais is the “same vintage” as the squad’s oldest player Eamonn McGee, whose younger brothers Neil and Peter are among the Gaoth Dobhair experienced heads. Noel Kelly is in that bracket too.
“Odhrán (Mac Niallais – his brother) turned 31 but, in fairness, everyone else is in their 20s,” Rónán adds of a core that won an u-21 championship together.
“We have a lot of young players coming through and we won the county u-21 Championship last year.
“A few of them have come through and you’d hope there would be another couple next year.
“There is a massive commitment at club level and maybe some of those boys haven’t realised that yet but maybe after seeing it this year they’ll push on next year and push into the senior game.”