Glenswilly are coming into the 2018 Donegal SFC somewhat under the radar: Just the way they like it around Pairc Naomh Columba.
The three-time Dr Maguire winners begin their 2018 Championship bid with a potentially-sticky away trip to Ardara on Sunday.
Brendan Walsh’s men did enough to retain their Division 1 status in the League, but have Michael Murphy back in tow again as they head for Memorial Park (throw-in 2pm).
Glenswilly have met Ardara the last two times they’ve won the Championship.
In 2015, when they also had Ardara and Bundoran for company in the group, they lost in Kentucky 0-8 to 0-6 on the opening day before shaking their heads clear. Two years previous, in a semi-final in 2013, Glenswilly prevailed, but only just, as Colin Kelly’s first-half goal gave them a 1-14 to 0-16 win.
Last year, Glenswilly defeated Ardara 0-15 to 1-7 at home in the group phase and back in 2009 it was Ardara who won both legs of a first round meeting under the old format.
“We always seem to draw Ardara – but we don’t seem to beat them too often – especially down in Ardara,” says Glenswilly defender Joe Gibbons.
“There is great tradition in Ardara when it comes to the Championship. They’ve had that tradition and history down the years and that stands to them in the Championship.”
It is a changed Glenswilly now, though the reliance remains on the likes of Murphy, Neil Gallagher, Eamonn Ward, Caolan Kelly, Gary McFadden, Ciaran Bonner and Gibbons.
“Championship is where it’s at,” Gibbons says. “This is the time where the hair stands on the back of the neck and you just want to get tore in.
“We’re in a tight group. Any group in this Championship is dangerous. It’s two from four to go into the quarter-finals and Burt, Bundoran and Ardara will fancy themselves too.
“At the start of the year, this is the week and time of year you’re looking forward to. We just need to take it week-by-week now. We’ve learned before not to look too far ahead. Ardara beat us in the first game a few years ago and that leaves you in a wild uphill battle then.”
The arrival of Murphy back into the fold gives Glenswilly an obvious and considerable boost.
Without the Donegal captain, Glenswilly survived in the top flight and they can certainly be expected to be a fearsome opponent with Murphy in the ranks.
“We burrowed away in the League without Michael, but he gives the whole thing a big lift when he comes in,” Gibbons says.
“We had to go through the League not having him and we did okay. There’s a lot of teams out there that people are talking about, but we’re under the radar this year.
“We’ve got a lot of young lads in the side now, Stephen O’Donnell, Caoimhinn Marley and Sean Wogan have freshened it up. Shane McDevitt and Shane McDaid are pushing us on too. It’s a squad game now no matter what level you’re at and we have a good blend there and good numbers driving it. Those lads are making a mark in the team.
“It was good the way the League ran this year. It meant that the games at the end, where they didn’t sort of matter much, still had an edge with men playing for Championship places.”
Glenswilly have added to their ranks a former SFC winner Donnacha Gallagher from St Eunan’s in recent weeks.
Gibbons says: “Donnacha has come in and knuckled down. He’s training hard and working hard. He’s put his hand up for a starting place and he’s deserved it.”
Walsh has been joined on the sideline of late by SFC-winning managers Michael Canning and Gary McDaid.
And Glenswilly, having won the big prize three times in the last eight years, will be a danger still.
“The nerves are still there,” Gibbons says. “It’s a help, winning the three Championships, I’m sure at some stage, but it could be a hinderance too. Teams might have that wee bit more bite coming up against you. Take Ardara, if they happen to beat us, they’re on the pigs back.”
It’s not a scenario being countenanced in Glenswilly.Tags: