Brendan McCole of St Naul's challenges St Eunan's Niall O'Donnell and, inset, Gerard McGrenra
St Eunan’s begin the defence of the Donegal SFC this Saturday evening with All-County Football League winners Kilcar and Naomh Conaill considered the three sides most likely.
The Letterkenny side open their campaign with a home fixture at O’Donnell Park, against St Naul’s. It is one of eight first round games - three on Saturday and five on Sunday down for decision on the opening weekend of the pursuit of the much coveted Dr Magure Cup.
“The draw has been favourable for St Eunan’s and I expect they will hope to ease themselves back into the championship like they did last year, ” says Gerard McGrenra, a three-time championship winner with Glenswilly.
“They are home to St Naul’s in round one and then they are away to Bundoran in the second. They are two games they will be expected to win which would put them into a good position going into the final two rounds of games.
McGrenra, a championship winner in 2011, 2013 and 2016 feels the draw has been kind enough to Kilcar too. They have Milford in Towney on Sunday and are away to Cloughaneely, in round two. Of the top three, he feels Naomh Conaill has got the least favourable draw, with the Glenties side in pot two, meaning an away fixture in Glenswilly before welcoming Killybegs.
Round three and four possibilities for Naomh Conaill then are St Eunan’s, Kilcar, Gaoth Dobhair, Aodh Ruadh, St Michael’s and Four Masters.
McGrenra believes the co-called ‘big four’ has been reduced to three.
“It’s a three horse race for me,” he said. “Gaoth Dobhair had been up there as well and St Michael’s were in about the top four or five for a few years.
“Gaoth Dobhair have dropped back since winning Ulster in 2018 and St Michael’s have not replaced Colm McFadden and Christy Toye and have dropped back a bit too. Going on form and consistency Kilcar and Naomh Conaill have been there at the top for a good few years and St Eunan’s came through last year and won. They have a lot of good young footballers and Rory Kavanagh has got them playing well and to a system.”
Naomh Conaill’s unfavourable draw will test Martin Regan’s side. Thus far only rounds one and two have been drawn and the round three draw after the last match of round two - MacCumhaill’s against Four Masters on Sunday week - with the round four draw then taking place after the conclusion of round three.
Each team will play four games with the top eight overall qualifying for the quarter-finals. The reasons for the two groups which were drawn so that each team can be guaranteed two home and two away games.
“I have been impressed with Glenfin this season,” McGrenra added. “They were comfortable in Division 1. Luke McGlynn and Shaun Ward are two good young forwards they have brought into the team this season.
“Aodh Ruadh also had a good league and were in the shake-up at the end. John McNulty in his first year has done well with them and like Glenfin I expect them also to comfortably make the quarter-finals. Gaoth Dobhair should also easily make the knockout stages and Glenswilly, despite relegation, should make it through.
“The final place is probably going to be between St Michael’s and MacCumhaill’s. They meet at the Bridge on Saturday evening and the outcome of that game could determine who qualifies.
That leaves Four Masters, Cloughaneely, Milford, Bundoran, Ardara, Killybegs and either Sean MacCumhaill’s or St Michaels battling to avoid being dragged into a relegation play-off. As for a winner, McGrenra is going for Kilcar.
The one change in the championship format from last season is in relation to relegation. The relegation play-off is among the bottom four compared to the bottom eight last year.
Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure SFC
Four Masters V Cloughaneely 17:00
St Eunan's V St Naul's 18:30
St Michael's V Sean Mac Cumhaill 19:30
Killybegs V Glenfin 13:30
Glenswilly V Naomh Conaill 14:30
Kilcar V Milford 15:00
Aodh Ruadh Ballyshannon V Bundoran 16:00
Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure IFC
Naomh Columba V Convoy 19:30,
Termon V Naomh Muire Lower Rosses 20:00
Malin V Burt 17:00,
Dungloe V Fanad Gaels 19:00,
Buncrana V Downings 19:30,
Red Hughs V Naomh Brd 15:00,
Junior A Championship Group A
Letterkenny Gaels V Carndonagh 19:00
Moville V Naomh Colmcille 15:00,
Na Rossa V Pettigo 15:00,
Junior A Championship Group B
Urris V Robert Emmets 19:00
Naomh Ultan V Naomh Padraig Muff 15:00
Junior B Football Group A
Urris V Robert Emmets 17:15
Malin V Naomh Ultan 12:30,
Junior B Football Group B
Letterkenny Gaels V Carndonagh 17:30
C Championship Group A
Glenfin V Glenswilly 17:00
Four Masters V St Eunan's 14:00
C Championship Group B
Termon V Sean Mac Cumhaill 15:00,
Naomh Conaill V Naomh Padraig Lifford 17:30,
Senior B Championship
Four Masters V Cloughaneely 15:30
St Eunan's V St Naul's GAA Club 17:00
St Michael's V Sean Mac Cumhaill 18:00
Killybegs V Glenfin 12:00
Glenswilly V Naomh Conaill 13:00,
Kilcar V Milford 13:30,
Gaoth Dobhair V Ardara 15:00,
Naomh Columba V Convoy 18:00
Termon V Naomh Muire 18:30
Malin V Burt 15:30
Dungloe V Fanad Gaels 17:30
Buncrana V Downings 18:00
Red Hughs V Naomh Brid 13:30
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