IT’S ONLY A YEAR ago since Kieran Canny looked out at Pairc Ui Dhocartaigh and worried about Carndonagh’s future.
They languished in Division 3’s dropzone and were ultimately relegated to Division 4.
It was their second relegation in succession from Division 3, but the previous year’s restructuring meant that they were given a reprieve.
When Canny agreed to return to the manager’s job he’d previously held from 2007-2010, he did so with a certain degree of trepidation.
What a difference twelve months can make.
On Friday evening, Canny takes Carndonagh to Pairc Naomh Mhuire in Convoy for an Intermediate Championship quarter-final clash with Naomh Colmcille (throw-in 8.30pm).
“We struggled last year to field one team, let alone two, so it’s been a great campaign so far,” says Canny, whose team has clinched a play-off spot at the upper end of Division 4.
“We have two squads now and both are in Championship games this weekend.
“We want to get some stability into the thing again. We’ve lost a lot of players in recent years and that did effect us, but we’ve put a lot of work into the underage side of it and we’re getting the benefits of that now.”
Carndonagh have been hit with blows in the form of the enforced absences of midfielder Ryan Kelly, as well as Eanna Newton, Keith Norris and Cathal O’Kane for their quarter-final.
Carn are something of surprise quarter-finalists, but how they got here comes as a warning shot to Naomh Colmcille.
They defeated Urris – who sit third in Divison 3 – while they pushed Naomh Columba and Gaeil Fhánada all the way in their other fixtures.
“We have the players to play at a higher level,” Canny insists.
“The big thing we’ve been missing is consistency. I know they’re good enough and could give anyone a game on their day.
“We didn’t really talk about getting out of the group in the Championship. We took it as a chance to test ourselves against teams of a higher grade and we came through that.
“People would be surprised that we’re here – but I’m not.”
Naomh Colmcille were on their way out of the Championship at half-time in their final group game against Buncrana.
All they had to their name in the first half was a Mark Dowds goal from a penalty and, with Alex Devenney having been sent off – dismissed having been booked twice – their Championship looked in tatters.
A stroming second half saw Francie Martin’s men preserve their Championship lives and they won 2-11 to 0-12, with Joe Donaghy bagging the second goal, having been 0-8 to 1-0 in arrears at the short whistle.
“We didn’t perform at all in the first half and there was real pressure that day, but we came out and just blew them away in the second half,” Martin says.
“We upped the pace in the second half and we scored 1-11.
“We were very disappointed with how the Championship went last year – we didn’t win any of the games in the group. We had a far harder group this year, but the Championship was what we set the sights on from the off this year.”
League form has been patchy, but last weekend’s win over Letterkenny Gaels has eased their woes at the wrong end of Division 3, a League from which they could have been promoted last year.
Thomas McKinley, a member of the Donegal squad in 2012, has emigrated to Australia, but Martin has elevated the likes of Oran Hilley, Michael Friel, Michel Lynch and John Fullerton, all of whom are now first team regulars, and he can still call on Donegal Under-21 forward Willie Gillespie.
Ryan McErlean (pictured above) gives them a massive platform at centrefield and he’ll be a key man on Friday evening. It was largely through McErlean’s coaxing that they pulled the result of the bag in Buncrana.
“We’ve pulled in some young fellas and they’re capable of going on if they have some belief,” Martin says.
“It might take a wee while, but they’ve shown the potential in games. Young lads have come in and made the places their own.
“I like to do that with young lads: Take them in and see how they can develop. These boys have stepped up to the mark. We have maybe ten or eleven of the panel who are still under-21 and our under-21s are in the Under-21 B semi-final.”
The Friels, Paul and Michael, have come back from a family holiday in America, while Ciaran Devine is available once more and McErlean’s return to form couldn’t have been better timed for the Pairc Colmcille residents.
The recent addition of former Donegal goalkeeper Tony Blake has also proved to be an astute recruit by Martin. Blake played in the two recent wins over Buncrana and Letterkenny Gaels.
Martin says: “Tony signed at the beginning of the year, but he had a knee operation and wasn’t available. He’s back playing now and he’s a massive addition for us.
“The experience he brings alone is huge and he’s a great help.”