CASTLEFIN Celtic and Raphoe Town are both in new surroundings this season – and the sides meet in Sunday’s Lifford Area Final of the Brian McCormick Cup at Park View (kick-off 2pm).
Castlefin – beaten Brian McCormick Cup finalists last season – will be back in the top flight having won promotion into the Premier Division while Raphoe Town climbed their way back into Division 1 having been in Division 2 since relegation in 2013.
Joe McGee has turned the water into wine in Castlefin again.
Last season, they won Division 1 and reached the final of the Brian McCormick Cup. Ian Ward’s goal at The Diamond Park dared them to dream before goals by Daniel Breslin and Shane O’Rourke dashed their upset hopes.
McGee’s men have made a promising start to the new term.
Paddy Dooher’s goal opened them up with a 1-0 win over Deele Harps while Dooher, Damien McAnenny and JP Malley netted in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Convoy Arsenal.
“It’s been an encouraging start,” McGee told Donegal Sport Hub.
“We’ve got some new players into the squad and the boys are all glad to get back at it early – especially after the defeat in the final last season. That defeat has been in the nostrils all summer so they couldn’t wait to get the thing up and running again.”
Ward is absent this weekend because of work commitments, as is Gary Lafferty, with Mark Lafferty out injured.
Calvin Bradley, one of McGee’s new faces, misses out because of a broken hand while Dominic McGlinchey is a long-term absentee owing to a cruciate knee ligament operation.
Johnny Doherty has returned to Park View this summer after a spell at Kilmacrennan Celtic and, following the loss of Anthony O’Hagan, McGee has decided to deploy 16-year-old Gary McCroary as his goalkeeper – and he hasn’t disappointed.
McGee’s aim for the new season is consolodation.
He said: “We had a good season last year. I always said that the players were here in Castlefin and that it was just a matter of getting them all together and like-minded because there is no question about the talent.
“If we can consolodate this season it’ll be a great season for us.”
For Stephen Connaghan and Raphoe Town, the aims are not to disimmilar, albeit in Division 1.
Connaghan has made astute signings in goalkeeper Roy Duffy and striker Jason McBrearty.
On Sunday, McBrearty netted the winner against his former club, Lifford Celtic, in the semi-final, in a 2-1 win with Emmet Kelly also on the mark. In their first game, McBrearty was on target in a 4-1 win away to Curragh Athletic, where Keelan Gillen, Christy Bogle and Keelan Kelly also scored.
Keelan Kelly (pictured above celebrating his goal against Curragh) and Oran Laird have been elevated from the club’s under-16 side and Connaghan won’t be afraid to give the youngsters their head.
“They’ll be brought in gradually, but they’re well capable of the step up,” the Raphoe boss said.
“It’s all to do with the coaching structure in the club now. We have a fantastic set-up in Raphoe. Most of the coaches at the underage level are players with the club and they’re coming through in the same way of thinking.
“I started managing around five years ago and took a year out. We were down in Division Two for a couple of seasons, but we’re glad to get out of it.
“These young lads have grown up together and have been playing together since a young age so that’ll stand to them.
“We’d love to stay in Division One and maybe give it a wee rattle”
In May, Mark Bogle’s goal handed them a 1-0 win over Whitestrand United in the play-off to see them climb a tier.
Now, they’ve started off positively with Connaghan having his squad train at the Raphoe Boxing Club, under the watch of the Head Coach, Gary McCullagh.
Tom McHugh remains out injured while Jamie Gallagher has another game left to serve on a suspension.
Connaghan said: “We’ve made a good start. We’re not playing particularly well, but we’ve had a good couple of results. We’ve been finishing strongly in games, which is down to the training we’re doing in the boxing club.”