THE ANALYSIS feels, in so many ways, oddly like 2005.
Back then, Naomh Conaill were new and their experiences were new.
No-one gave them a chance and St Eunan’s would, simply, prove too strong.
History was rewritten when Naomh Conaill took hold of Dr Maguire after a replay. Not even the missed boat in a drawn encounter denied them their day.
Tomorrow will be their eighth appearance in the final (or nine if you count the two in 2005) since those dizzying days when they broke the ceiling.
It perhaps feels strange – and maybe is a reflection on the standing of this Gaoth Dobhair squad – that no pundit has taken a punt on Naomh Conaill.
All three predictions on this week’s ‘The Championship’ preview on Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub were for Gaoth Dobhair. The Donegal Democrat ran their annual ‘jury’ and it was 12-0 for Gaoth Dobhair, the defending champions.
“We’ve lost a lot of finals, but been there or thereabouts,” says Naomh Conaill manager Martin Regan, who is in his fourth final as boss. Naomh Conaill lost to Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair in the last two years.
“The finals we’ve lost, we lost to serious teams. There’s no real shame in that either.
“We have a couple of championships to show. It’s not that we never went in and were big favourites. There is no shame in losing to good teams.
“The county final is where you wanna be involved in. We were well beaten last year and we have a bit of ground to make up on. Hopefully we’ll make a good go of it.”
Ciaran Thompson has established himself on Declan Bonner’s roster for the Donegal senior team and is one of the latest group to emerge around Davy Brennan Memorial Park.
“There are a lot of young players there, but they have a lot of Championships experience,” Thompson says.
“The average age of the team was 25 for the semi-final so it’s a good, young side, but it has a lot of experience too.”
Ethan O’Donnell will play in his fourth final in six years tomorrow and is well aware of the task facing Naomh Conaill.
Gaoth Dobhair are also the reigning Ulster champions, having blazed a trail through the province after winning the Donegal SFC last October.
“When they smell blood they’ll go for it,” O’Donnell says.
“Look through their starting fifteen. They have county seniors, under-21s and minors all over and county minors on the bench.
“They have pace to kill. They narrowly missed out on an All-Ireland final last year. Anything can happy on the day, but it’ll be a very tough test.”
The likes of Eoin Waide, Anthony Thompson, Brendan McDyer and Marty Boyle all played in 2005.
Leo McLoone was just 16, but featured in the drawn game 14 years ago.
Regan says the young players have led the way of late.
“Ciaran is only 23 and he’s driving things on,” the Naomh Conaill manager says.
“He is a real leader and is equally as impressive a leader as Anthony ever was.
“The young lads are driving things on really. They’re easy-come, easy-go. They’re laid back and enjoy their football. There is no fear in them. But Gaoth Dobhair are in the same boat.”
Successive final defeats have left empty feelings in Glenties over the last two winters. The favourites, Kilcar and Gaoth Dobhair, triumphed each time, but Naomh Conaill shook their heads clear and are back at the final furlong again.
“Any time you lose, you think what you could have done differently,” Regan says.
“Even winning this year wouldn’t make up for the last two years, but we hope to put up a better show.
“We’re as ready as we can be.
“We’re blessed to be in our third in a row. We have a bit of ground to make up. Hopefully we can make amends from the last two years. We went into the last two finals as big underdogs and lost. None of those were huge shocks. There are no massive regrets. We came up against two massive teams.”
As they did in 2005, Naomh Conaill must, as Ciaran Thompson noted this week, ‘just come out swinging’.
The Naomh Conaill captain says: “We came up a long way short last year, but we’ll try and bring something to the table. We’ll definitely go at it.”
If they do upset the odds, you wonder would it be as big a shock as it might seem at first glance …Tags: