Red Hughs, the Donegal and Ulster Junior champions, return to action this Sunday when they face Easkey, Sligo in the All-Ireland Junior Football Championship semi-final.
The game is in Sean O'Heslin Park, in Ballinamore, Leitrim with a throw-in time of 2 pm and the prize for the victors is an All-Ireland final place and a big day out in Croke Park.
It’s just over five weeks since Red Hughs won their All-Ireland quarter-final following a two-point victory after extra-time against British champions Dunedin Connollys in O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny.
The Donegal champions cruised through Ulster relatively comfortably with wins over Con Magee’s, Antrim, Emyvale, Monaghan and Limavady Wolfhounds, Derry. But they almost came unstuck against the all-British champions Dunedin Connollys from Edinburgh.
The heroes of that win were goalscorers Shane Gallagher, who warrior like came off the bench, and county man Stephen McMenamin.
Both goals were scored in the second period of extra-time.
Gallagher suffered a broken jaw in the Ulster final. But after being ruled out for the quarter-final, he made himself available the night before the game.
“That was a real scare alright,” said Red Hughs manager Seosamh McKelvey.
“But it was one of those game where you are going well and are well in front. Then you ease off a little and the opposition hit a few scores and all of sudden they are back in the game.
“It can be very difficult to get back into a game like that but thankfully we did and came out on the right side in the end. But it was a scare. there’s no doubt about that.
“In fairness to Dunedin, they were a good side and they had four or five fellas playing who if they were here at home, would be playing at a higher level than junior.”
McKelvey gave his players one week off after that game but they were back in training the following week and it has been heads down ever since.
“I left it up to the lads really but we had little choice. We have trained a few times over Christmas. It’s now a matter of picking it up again and hitting the ground running on Sunday against Easkey.”
Red Hughs, like all teams at the end of a long season, have their usual share of bumps and bruises and players carrying knocks. They have also been hit with a bout flu.
“We had six men down with the flu last weekend and Damian Browne, Shane McGlinchey, Gerard Melaugh, Ciaran and Gary Kelly are all carrying knocks.
“But they should be all okay by Sunday, the lads with the flu is our biggest concern but fingers crossed.”
Easkey, the Sligo and Connacht champions, had their own scare on the way to Sunday’s semi-final. They did not have to play a quarter-final. But they lived on their wits late on in the Connacht final against Galway champions Clonbur.
And it took a late wonder point from full forward Ryan McKenna to clinch a one point, 1-11 to 1-10 win, over the Galway men after holding a commanding nine point half-time advantage. Easkey led Clonbur 1-8 to 0-2 at the break.
Full-back Noel McGuire and midfielder Eugene Mullen are the Sligo county men in their team and they are managed by former county star Dessie Sloyan.
Left half forward Emmett Healy with 1-3 was the top scorer in the Connacht final and along with Ryan Sloyan and Ryan McKenna, they have a potent forward force.
“We don’t know much about them other than they are a good side and they were playing senior football up to two years ago,” McKelvey said.
“They were then hit with emigration and they dropped down to junior. But from what we hear, they are all back and are a very good side with a good mix of young players and experienced men.
“We haven’t got to see much of them because the Connacht council and the Sligo county board will not give us the video of the game. It is bad form on their part because I’m fairly sure they have been supplied a video of our games.
“We applied to both for copies but we haven’t heard back from either and at this stage it is looking like we are not going to get them.”
Easkey won a sixth Sligo Junior championship this season and a first since 1977 having played mostly Intermediate and Senior football in the intervening years.
The south Sligo club have a proud record of five Senior and five Intermediate championships as well as their sixth junior crown.
“We know we face a big challenge on Sunday but the prize is a big one - a place in an All-Ireland final and a game in Croke Park,” McKelvey added.
“It is every young boy’s dream and a chance that may never come around again so we are going to have to make the most of it.”
Louth and Leinster champions Dundalk Young Irelanders play Beaufort from Kerry in the second semi-final, also on Sunday. That game is in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
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