The pinnacle of the Donegal Championship season will see reigning Champions Gaoth Dobhair take on Naomh Conaill, a team well versed in finals who are gracing Páirc Sheain MhicCumhaill for the fourth successive year next Sunday, October 20th. Gaoth Dobhair are also the current Ulster Champions and in most pundit’s eyes are the favourites going into next Sunday’s decider.
Gaoth Dobhair have been slowly but surely building as the competition progressed. The first day out on September 8th, they nearly stuttered in Machaire Gathlán against Naomh Ádhamhnáin when it took a goal from Odhran MacNiallis late in the second half to rescue a point against St Eunans. A gritty 1-8 to 1-3 win at The Bridge put them back on track and a comfortable 2-19 to 0-7 win albeit, against an injury-stricken Ard an Ratha, sounded warning bells to all opposition as the quarterfinals loomed.
Cruising home, eight points clear, against Realt na Mara in the semi-final they were very nearly dumped out of the championship when a spirited revival saw the Seasiders close the deficit to bring the game to extra time. They blitzed the Bundoran men in first half of extra time and while Realt na Mara again came strong in the final minutes this time Gaoth Dobhair had the experience and wherewithal to hold out. The semi-final meeting against a Cill Chartha side unbeaten in League and Championship until them provided the acid test of Gaoth Dobhair’s credentials. Goals at crucial times proved vital. Odhrán MacNiallis strike in the first half left the game evenly balanced going into the break and Daire O’Baoill’s screamer at the start of the second half put the champions in the ascendancy and Kilcar playing catch-up. As a resilient Cill Chartha mounted a strong comeback, Kevin Cassidy’s three-pointer put a major damper on their ambitions and Gaoth Dobhair competently managed the end-game. Their five games’ results were:
Gaoth Dobhair 1-3 Naomh Ádhamhnáin 0-6
Naomh Micheál 1-3 Gaoth Dobhair 1-8
Ard an Ratha 0-7 Gaoth Dobhair 2-19
Gaoth Dobhair 2-20 Realt na Mara 2-17 (AET)
Cill Chartha 0-12 Gaoth Dobhair 3-8
Naomh Conaill progressed to the semi-final stage largely under the radar. The safely, smoothly and securely negotiated their way through the Group stages with efficient home victories against Na Cealla Beaga and Sean MacCumhaill. In the opening game, newly promoted Killybegs got a foretaste of the standards they will need to meet in Division 1 in 2020. There were only six points difference at the final whistle but the Glenties side were reasonably comfortable throughout. At Páirc na Rosann Naomh Conaill’s victory over an out-of-sorts An Clochán Liath was never in doubt but a Sean MacCumhaill’s side that needed to win, and hope Dungloe done them a favour, proved doughty opposition but Naomh Conaill’s craft and experience seen them through.
Neighbours Glenfin never relented in their quarter-final battle in Páirc Naomh Columba in Glenswilly, matching the Glenties men throughout the first half and leading 0-5 to 0-2 at one stage until a Charles McGuinness goal ignited a Naomh Conaill recovery. It proved a vital score and while Glenfin pulled the scores back to level pegging briefly in the second period the experience of the Division 1 side came to the fore as they reeled off six points in succession. Their opponents in the semi-final, Naomh Ádhamhnáin, were always going to present a formidable hurdle. In a fascinating game, the Glenties men had the better of the first half but an Eoin McGeehin goal for Eunans early in the second half put the Letterkenny men back in poll position and they led by two heading up the final few furlongs. A resilient Naomh Conaill, however, battled back and an Eoghan McGettigan free in added time saw them through to this year’s final and a chance to avenge last year’s defeat at the hands of Gaoth Dobhair. Their five matches went as follows:
Naomh Conaill 1-15 Na Cealla Beaga 1-9
An Clochán Liath 1-3 Naomh Conaill 2-16
Naomh Conaill 0-12 Sean MacCumhaill 0-9
Gleann Fhinne 0-13 Naomh Conaill 1-14
Naomh Ádhanhnáin 1-11 Naomh Conaill 0-15
The man in the middle next Sunday will be Enda McFeely from Naomh Mhuire, Conmhaigh.