By Niall Gartland
WILL this year’s Donegal Senior Championship be another two-horse race between St Eunan’s and reigning champions Naomh Conaill?
They’ve played in the last two finals – St Eunan’s came out on top in 2021 while Naomh Conaill gained sweet revenge this time last year, so it’s certainly looking that way judging by precedent alone.
Another omen is that they met in the Division One final the other week with the men from Glenties running out deserving victors against an under-strength St Eunan’s team.
Now they and every other club in the county will turn their attentions to the championship which throws in this weekend. As in previous years it’s a group stage format in Donegal so it’ll be hard to read too much into the opening few rounds of fixtures.
A squadron of St Eunan’s players have headed stateside for the summer months but the likes of Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton will be back in action for the club championships. Again they’re managed by club native Rory Kavanagh, and a huge positive from their perspective is that Conor Morrison is back and playing well at full-back after recovering from long-term injury.
Naomh Conaill, meanwhile, look in great nick at the minute. They’re extremely hard to break down and their elder statesmen like Leo McLoone, Marty Boyle and Anthony Thompson are still hugely effective players. The majority of the rest of the team have won multiple Donegal SFC medals at this stage as well, and they always seem to be able to time their championship run to perfect, so don’t be surprised if they pick up pace in the business end of the competition.
On the flipside they’ve already lost Eoghan McGettigan to a season-ending injury and they can’t afford to lose any more. Martin Regan remains in charge and they’ll be disappointed with anything other than a successful championship defence.
They’ve won three of the last four championships in Donegal and the team must likely to stop them in their tracks in 2021 winners St Eunan’s, but you can never discount Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair from going on a run. Kilcar have some of the best players of a generation in Donegal including Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty, and Ryan’s father Martin is helping out manager Conor Cunningham.
Gaoth Dobhair, meanwhile, recently came out on top of the Division 1B final and have the potential to be a force. It’s a mixed picture on the injury front: Matthew McClean is available this year but the chat is that Daire Ó Baoill will miss the championship. Some of their greats who won an Ulster Club title have moved on so it’s no big surprise they’ve dipped a level or two, but they’re certainly still competitive.
Glenswilly are potential dark horses. They’re the team of a certain Michael Murphy, still a talismanic figure, and they recently won the Division Two league.
They aren’t quite at the pitch of the history-making Glenswilly side that won three championships between 2011 and 2016 but they’re a tough outfit to beat and have plenty of pedigree. It’s worth noting their championship win in 2016 was the last time a team outside the big four of Naomh Conaill, St Eunan’s, Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair even managed to reach the senior championship final in Donegal.
St Michael’s will be hoping that Michael Langan will have a big campaign while St Naul’s are a Division Three team who also ply their trade in the senior championship and can call upon top Donegal footballer Peadar Morgan. Hugh McFadden lines out for Killybegs and they have an extremely testing championship opener against Naomh Conaill. Cloughaneely’s championship campaign will be spearheaded, meanwhile, by Jason McGee.
There’s a scattering of other teams involved. For instance Four Masters have a big derby clash against Aodh Ruadh in their first round group stage clash, but realistically it’s hard to look past Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s. A few others could throw a spanner in the works, but by our reckoning it’s essentially a toss of a coin between the men from Glenties and their rivals from Letterkenny.