THE STAGE WAS SET tonight for the 2015 RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta Donegal SFC final as the Donegal County Board hosted St Eunan’s and Naomh Conaill at the official press launch for the football showpiece of the year.
When their swords clang on October 18 at Sean MacCumhaill Park, it’ll be the fourth time the clubs will clash in the final, of fifth if you include their replayed fixture of 2005.
It’s ten years now since Naomh Conaill won their first-ever Dr Maguire when they overcame St Eunan’s in a replay.
A 16-year old Leo McLoone, previously a waterboy and ball boy at Davy Brennan Memorial Park, came on as a sub in 2005.
The same Leo McLoone is now the captain of Naomh Conaill, who are bidding for a first SFC triumph since 2010, when they defeated Killybegs in the final.
Picture caption: At the Donegal SFC final press launch are match referee Andrew Mullin with team captains Leo McLoone of Naomh Conaill and Rory Kavanagh of St. Eunans. Picture courtesy of Gary Foy, newsandsportfiles
“It’s great to be back – this is what you’re aiming for every year,” McLoone said at tonight’s launch in the Villa Rose Hotel, in the shadows of the sward upon which they’ll do battle in just over two weeks’ time.
“A great bond has been made between the players and it’s great to be back in the final with the same players.”
Naomh Conaill lost finals in 2009 and 2012 to St Eunan’s, who have a handful of Championship wins over the Glenties men since ’05.
Martin Regan has stepped into the manger’s hotseat at Naomh Conaill having only hung up his boots last year.
Regan has been joined for the Championship by Cathal Corey, the Kildress, County Tyrone native who managed them to Championship glory in 2010, when they went all the way to an Ulster final in which they lost out to Crossmaglen.
“Cathal has been in since just before the Championship and that was always in the pipeline,” Regan said.
“He has been a great addition. He rang me last year to see if I’d take the job and he said that he’d come in for the Championship.”
For Regan, making the transition from player to manager within the confines of the same group wasn’t easy.
“It was a big decision,” he said.
“We all love our football and the decision was for a good cause. The focus is there every year with our boys. They’re mad for football.”
Maxi Curran became the first man from outside the membership of the St Eunan’s club to take on the manager’s job at O’Donnell Park last year and he delivered Dr Maguire at the first time of asking.
This time, again, St Eunan’s have saved their best offerings for when it has really mattered: In the white heat of knockout scenarios against Glenswilly and St Michael’s, two of the other heavyweights.
In the group stage of the competition in August, Naomh Conaill went to O’Donnell Park and defeated St Eunan’s 2-12 to 0-8.
“That was the kick we needed and we came under the radar from that,” Curran said.
The injection of the likes of Rory Carr, Lee McMonagle, Conor Morrison, Caolan Ward and Conor Parke has given St Eunan’s a new lease of life.
“We made a conscious effort to give as many young players as much football as possible,” Curran said.
“That has rejuvenated the older players and they know that they won’t be let down in the heat of battle.”
The recent return of Rory Kavanagh from a summer in Boston has been significant.
“It’s good to be back on home soil and playing in realistic temperatures again,” Kavanagh, the St Eunan’s captain said.
“When you need to play well is when it’s knockout and it’s on the line. It’ll be another step up now against Naomh Conaill. It’ll be another battle and there isn’t much between the teams.”
Sean Dunnion, the Donegal County Board Chairman, paid tribute to RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta for their ‘very loyal financial support’ of a Championship he described as ‘tremendous’.
“I don’t think that anyone would dispute that we have the two best teams in the final,” Dunnion said.
“It’ll be a great final between the defending champions, Et Eunan’s, and their rivals from Naomh Conaill.
“I’ve no doubt that there’ll be a big crowd and we’re looking forward to a good game.
“We’re looking forward to a big support from both teams and from the wider county. We’re looking forward to the build up and I wish both teams well.”
The Man of the Match in the final will again receive the Peadar McGeehin Memorial Trophy, in honour of the former St Eunan’s player and manager.
The McGeehin family were represented at this evening’s launch by Ann and Michael McGeehin.
Andrew Mullin from Killybegs will referee the final.
It will be Mullin’s first time taking charge of the Donegal SFC final. He will be assisted by Mark Dorrian from Fanad Gaels and Kevin McGinley of Naomh Columba.
Seamus Mac Geidigh, the Regional Manager of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, urged the victors to set their crosshairs for an assault on the Ulster Club Championship.
“The aim for whoever wins should be to win the Ulster Club title,” he said.
“We have been knocking at the door for the past number of years. In the years to come, Donegal will have the winner of the Ulster Club.”Tags: