MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Nothing to compare to championship football

Michael Murphy Sports Donegal Senior Football Championship preview

MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Nothing to compare to championship football

I suppose considering they have only a short timeline, to be fair to the county Board, the championship format was based on giving teams as many competitive matches as they could.

If you were thinking with your county hat on, there was nothing wrong with the previous arrangement of four groups with each team having three games. But in the special circumstances around Covid-19, they had to do something different.

These are different times with just 200 people allowed into games. Hopefully that will increase to 500. Clubs have two home games and two away from home. The restrictions and guidelines for games is placing a lot of pressure on clubs and club volunteers, who were under pressure long before Covid-19.

There is a lot of extra work involved. I felt they could have gone for a knock-out championship this year; have a number of league games first and then knock-out championship.

I'm old stock anyway. Championship is about one-off games. The format we had in Donegal back in the day was home and away knockout and I don't think that should have been changed. It gave clubs a chance of a big home game and also the chance of creating an upset. I remember the last time we won the championship in 1996, we played Ballyshannon four times in the first round, home, away and two play-off games. It was real championship from the very first whistle.

I feel that with so many games on a league basis, the bite will not come into it until the fourth game and the quarter-finals. I also feel with this format that there could be many dead rubbers come the fourth round of games.

As regards who will be in the reckoning, it is a foregone conclusion that St Eunans, Kilcar, Gaoth Dobhair and Naomh Conaill are the big four.

I saw 40 minutes of Kilcar against Killybegs in the league and they looked good. The one thing that Covid has done, it has gives the likes of the McHughs, Paddy McBrearty some time to rest, especially after injury. McBrearty looked extremely sharp.

Gaoth Dobhair, Naomh Conaill, there's very little between them. Gaoth Dohair have had the rest after a long season two years ago, going to an All-Ireland semi-final and may come back a little fresher. It will be good for players like Michael Carroll, and no harm for Neil McGee to get a few months off. They also have Odhrán Mac Niallais back from London

The four games will suit the stronger team. You will always have a chance of turning a team over in a one-off game.

It is the same at intercounty level. The back-door and the Super 8s doesn't allow for giant killing any more. Will you ever see Leitrim in an All-Ireland semi-final again?

I remember Termon coming through at the start of the early noughties. They were playing well and caught a few of the big boys.

Leicester City did it in the Premiership, spending only a fraction of what the big clubs did. Liverpool won it this year, but that was not a shock. Leicester City's win showed the romance of sport.

We used to have that in the GAA, but not any more. The back door came in for financial reasons, but all of these changes gives the bigger teams the chance to get it right. Tyrone used that in the last few years, bowing out of Ulster to concentrate on getting to the last four.

But we will have to make what we can of it. I would love to see the Donegal club championship going back to the home and away.

Seven games in nine weeks to get to final. That is good. Easy to keep level of form. The bigger teams will look for that home advantage in the quarter-final.

PREVIEWS

Bundoran v St Eunans - Friday 7.30

That's a tight game. St Eunans are used to O'Donnell Park and going to play on a tighter pitch. Bundoran would have counted themselves unlucky last year against Gaoth Dobhair. They have improved. They found their level last year and are a team that can match most.

They will need to have everybody on board on Friday night. Jamie Brennan is back from injury but he would need Gary Clancy and Michael McEniff with him.

We know the level of St Eunans and they maintain that every year, bringing players through on a regular basis. They always seem to be in the last four of the Reserve championship, which allows them to blood their youth.

Then they have a goalkeeper, Shaun Patton, who has the capacity to be the best ever goalkeeper in this county - he is that good.

Bundoran would have to be at it straight away. No good saying that at half-time.

Verdict: St. Eunans

St Michaels v Glenswilly - Friday 7.30

I looked at Glenswilly team last week. Murphy only hit two points, but then the report said that he was very involved. Big Neil Gallagher is gone but Copper McFadden is still there, the Kellys. When you mention Glenswilly everyone thinks Michael Murphy.

Remember they have three county titles and they play a game that suits them and Michael Murphy fits into that game plan.

They could scare any team. They have always survived in league, just doing enough, usually trying to peak for championship. They will always be dangerous in a short championship season.

When St Michaels came through at underage to senior I could see Colm McFadden and Christy Toye winning two or three championships. They have a lot of good players, Martin McElhinney and they now have Michael Langan, a massive addition.

If they allow Murphy to dictate, then Glenswilly will win. If they overcome that obstacle, they have potential to make Glenswilly pay. I don't care what age Colm McFadden is, he is still deadly. 10 chances, he will take seven if not eight. They will need to use the experience of Toye and dictate the game if they are to succeed. If they don't hold Murphy, they will lose.

Verdict: Glenswilly

Naomh Conaill v Milford - Saturday 2.30

Milford had a great rise over the last few years. Steady group of boys. I saw them last year against Killybegs; very well organised. They had a good game plan and the players that they have have done very well but they struggle up front where you need it

We all know what Glenties have to offer. Last year when they got over Gaoth Dobhair, they were great in Ulster until they met Kilcoo.

Similar to St Eunans, they take players through the ranks, don't rush them into senior unless the likes of Ciaran Thompson of Eoghan McGettigan.

They have a great pool of talent. Teams with the bigger squads will have an advantage. That's where Kilcar have a bit of a problem. You can rest players on certain days. Sometimes players can take it for granted if their place is not under pressure.

That is not the case in Glenties and that is one of the reasons they are successful.

Verdicdt: Naomh Conaill

Kilcar v Termon - Saturday, 4.30

It would be easy to write off Termon. Kilcar will be clear favourites. After seeing them against Killybegs, they are flying. I understand they played Corofin in a challenge but I don't know what level of teams were out. But they have trained extremely well. They know they have to go to O'Donnell Park to meet Eunans the following Friday, they will be primed to play Termon.

John McNulty will take nobody for granted. But on form it has to be Kilcar. Termon have not reached the same heights in recent years, but they can be a gritty side and will relish going to Towney and having a go.

Verdict: Kilcar

Killybegs v Glenfin - Saturday 6.30

Knowing all the Killybegs players, a lot of them from underage, they have worked extremelyl hard over the last few years. Went to Division Three but then got two promotions in two years.

Eoghan Ban and Big Hugh are the standout players. A lot depends on how they play or are allowed to play. Last year they struggled against Kilcar. The loss of Ryan Cunningham to a hand injury and with Michael Gallagher and Conor Cunningham not available is big.

However, they are hard to beat in Fintra. If Hugh McFadden and Jack McSharry going well, they also have Michael Statham, Seamus Og Byrne, Shaun Gorrell and there are scores in Daniel Breslin and Mooner (Christopher Murrin).

However, against Kilcar they were easily opened at the back and that's where Glenfin carry the greatest threat. They won the Intermediate a couple of years ago and when they are on the attack, their first option is always goals. Even when I played against them, that was their game, short, sharp, looking for the goal chance.

Killybegs will struggle if they don't stop the runners. They will also have to keep an eye on Frank McGlynn, who can run a game. But with home advantage and the need to get a win on the board I'll give Killybegs the nod.

Verdict: Killybegs

Four Masters v Gaoth Dobhair - Sunday 2.30

It is a very difficult assignment for Four Masters at the present time. Defeats to neighbours Naomh Brid and Naomh Ultan is poor preparation. They have a very good minor team but they would not be ready yet.

They will have to make the best of what they have and I have no doubt they will come again. They are doing a lot of work at underage and they will need to keep those players motivated to come through.

Gaoth Dobhair will want to hit the ground running and they could hardly have got a better draw. They will follow Sunday's game with a home game against Killybegs.

It will all be about getting their own players to the levels of a couple of years ago. Have they still the hunger? Time is getting short for the likes of Eamon McGee and Cass (Kevin Cassidy). There are replacements but the veterans will want to keep going.

They should have little difficulty on Sunday unless there is a massive shock on the cards.

Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair

St Nauls v Dungloe - Sunday 4.30

I saw St Nauls three times last year in the Intermediate championship. They struggled in some games and in other years that would have got to them. But they had Barry Meehan in charge and he made a difference. They went on to win the title and could have been promoted to Division One instead of Killybegs, it was that close.

They have Barry Doherty now at the help and he has plenty of experience with Kilcar. Can he get the best out of them? A new voice is not a bad thing and I see them as a team that can build on last yeaer.

Dungloe also have a lot of young players. The came to Killybegs last year and ran Killybegs very close. Danny Rodgers in goal; if he was was interested, Shaun Patton would be looking over his shoulder.

They have a lot more players at home this year due to Covid (that is probably the same for quite a few teams). It will be an interesting contest but home advantage might be enough.

Verdict: St Nauls

MacCumhaills v Ardara - Sunday 6.30

This has the makings of a clinker. Going back to underage, I saw MacCumhaills three years ago at minor level with Oisin Gallen, Luke Gavigan and a couple of others. They play a nice brand of football.

I saw MacCumhaills last year in Fintra and there was news young Gallen was going to Australia. It might have thrown him off. He then got injured, but like Paddy McBrearty, he was not rushed back due to the break and he would have been well looked after at intercounty level. He will be the one that this championship is made for.

If the rest of the MacCumhaills lads can reach that level, Ardara will be in trouble.

Ardara have struggled up front in recent years. They have the power at the back with Paddy McGrath and they have Classon at midfield and the likes of young Robbie Adair, but they lack a Jamie Brennan or an Oisin Gallen up front.

If the likes of Stefan Boyle could get a level of consistency and reach the Brennan and Gallen level. He has time to progress. Nine points on Sunday is exceptional. MacCumhaills will have noted that.

There is a big connection with the Gavigans which will make for an interesting twist.

MacCumhaills will be on a high after beating Bundoran. Ardara are very tricky, always work for one another. And they have Brendan Boyle to throw in if needed.

I think MacCumhaills need to make breakthrough. It's a big ask for Ardara but there is very little between them. Home advantage and Oisin Gallen gives them the edge. Need Stefan to kick another nine or 10

Verdict: MacCumhaills (only just)

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