Minor manager Luke Barrett
Donegal minors finally get their chance on the big stage on Sunday next when their Ulster Championship quarter-final against Tyrone goes ahead in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey (1 pm).
It has been a long year for all sportsmen and the Donegal minors have suffered just like the rest, being put in cold storage when the lockdown hit in March and then after returning to training, being put back again when Donegal were hit by new Covid regulations.
The Milford man says it has been a very different type of year to be involved in management.
"It is very strange, so it is," says minor manager, Luke Barrett, who has had a full year in charge of a group of players who have got to play just a handful of games.
"The initial lockdown hit everybody hard. And then we got back on the 14th of September and we had a good five or six weeks training. Things were going pretty well.
"But then the last lockdown really hit us hard. Obviously with Donegal, particularly, at Level 5, we didn't get to do any training. The boys were doing individual training. I suppose that was really difficult, we have got only five sessions done when we meet Tyrone. That's just the reality of it.
"We have played no challenge matches as it wasn't allowed under the regulations that we were playing under. The last game we played was against Tyrone in the league, so it is a long time ago now."
That Ulster Minor League game was back in March in Letterkenny. "We play in-house games regularly enough, but again that's against your own, but it is very difficult."
Donegal go into the game on Sunday with much of the squad which represented Donegal in the Buncrana Cup last year, a competition which saw them defeat Tyrone.
"There a few new faces. The majority of the squad would be from last year's U-16s. We have four or five of this year's U-16s - Liam Donnelly, Luke McGlynn, Eoin McGettigan, Paddy McElwee and Anthony Curran," said Barrett, who said that they would have 23-24 of last year's Buncrana Cup panel.
Asked if he knew much about Tyrone, he said that there hasn't been much between them in recent meetings.
"We haven't seen them much. The reality is we played them in the league and they beat us by two points and we beat them last year in the Buncrana Cup. From that regard there's hasn't been a wile lot between the two teams any time we played.
"They are a fantastic team. They have maybe five starting from the team that beat Donegal minors last year in Ballybofey. They have a serious pedigree and will be a very difficult side to beat next Sunday."
The big names on the Tyrone teamsheet are familiar - Canavan and Cush - Ruairi Canavan and Conor Cush are sons of former Tyrone stars Peter and Adrian.
They were the two players who caused Donegal problems when the sides met in that league game in Letterkenny.
Overall, Barrett is happy that the game is going ahead after a long wait. "The bottom line is we are delighted for the lads that they will get the chance to represent Donegal. They have worked probably harder than any Donegal minor team had to work over the last years, with the year that was in it and the stop-start nature of the season.
"Whatever about senior players going out and working on individual programmes for these young players to go out and dedicate themselves to individual training when their friends would have been doing very little.
"Young people would have a lot of issues going on off the field that people wouldn't have associated with over the last couple of years. And for those guys to put their head down and dedicate their whole year to getting to this strage and this opportunity; for us it is nothing to do with the management, it is completely about them and them getting the opportunity to represent Donegal.
"They have a tight group there. We kept them together during lockdown with zoom. Maybe that stood to them as well, because there is a good bond. The players drive the whole thing themselves, we are just there coaching them a bit. They have taken ownership of it and I'm delighted they are getting the opportunity to put on the Donegal jersey because they certainly deserve it as well," he said.
As for Donegal's chances, the manager feels it may be something of a lottery.
"I suppose the time of year wouldn't particularly suit the type of player that we have, a lot of good footballers but a lot of small men as well. The time of year, it is going to be difficult and the conditions are going to play a massive part in it. The pitch is going to play a massive part in it, the weather as well.
"Listen, it is really a lottery. But the one thing is, we would have like to have been a lot better prepared. That last lockdown made it very difficult for us," said Barrett, who added that because of the nature of the last lockdown players had no club football or schools' football.
"They have done nothing for six weeks and it's difficult to prepare, but I suppose that is the challenge."
The Donegal manager, like most other minor managers, is not happy that only 24 players will be allowed into the venue on Sunday.
"We are very disappointed with that. I suppose it is a conversation we have had in the management team over the last couple of meetings: How do you tell nine players who have been training for the last 13 months that they can't come to the championship game. It is an empty stadium sitting there. So listen, we wouldn't be happy with that ourselves. And it is very disappointing for the players and their parents and the clubs as well. Every one of them is equal in our squad and it is very difficult for them. And it is going to be very difficult for us to tell them that as well.
"Again, the guys haven't missed a single session since we started trials around this time last year. They have been there training every bit as hard, doing every bit of the hard yards the same as every other player. It is extremely disappointing and I don't see the logic in it at all.
"But unfortunately, our hands are tied," said Barrett.
DONEGAL MINOR PANEL
Donegal Minor Panel
Eoin Mac Gettigan, Milford
Cian Mulligan, MacCumhaill's
Kyle Murray, Aodh Ruadh
Cian McEntee, Gaoth Dobhair
Fionnan Coyle, Gaoth Dobhair
Blake McGarvey, Cloich Cheann Fhaola
Conor O’Neill, Malin
Robbie Mac Donnell, Naomh Conaill
Mark Gordon, Naomh Muire, Convoy
David Boyle, St Eunan's
Oran Patterson, Naomh Muire, Convoy
Cian Rooney, Aodh Ruadh
Jack Boyle, Naomh Ultan
Sean Doherty, Buncrana
Eoghan McLaughlin, Moville
Eoin O’Donnell, Milford
Oisin Crawford, Buncrana
Cian McMonagle, St Eunan's
Drew McKinney, Naomh Padraig Muff
Senan Quinn, Four Masters
Luke McGlynn, Glenfin
Daniel Gildea, Naomh Conaill
Liam Donnelly, Milford
Shane Black, Milford
Patrick McElwee, Na Dunaibh
Tiarnan McBride, Na Dunaibh
Liam McGrenaghan, Gael Fhanada
Oisin McDaid, Glenswilly
Kevin Jordan, Buncrana
Kevin McGettigan, Termon
Ferdia Doherty, Naomh Muire
Dylan Murphy, Killybegs
Anthony Curran, Milford
TEAMS FROM MINOR LEAGUE MEETING
The teams and scorers from the Minor League meeting in March which ended 1-10 to 1-8 in favour of Tyrone.
DONEGAL: Ben Miller (Malin); Cian Mulligan (Sean MacCumhaills), Jack Boyle (Naomh Ultan), Cian McEntee (Gaoth Dobhair); Kyle Murray (Aodh Ruadh), Eoin O’Donnell (Milford), Oisin Crawford (Buncrana); Drew McKinney (Naomh Padraig,Muff), Senan Quinn (Four Masters); Stephen McFadden (Gaoth Dobhair), Daniel Gildea (Naomh Conaill, 0-1), Blake McGarvey (Cloughaneely, 1-3,1-0 pen 3f); Cian Rooney (Aodh Ruadh), Conor O’Neill (Malin, 0-2), Fionnan Coyle (Gaoth Dobhair, 0-1). Subs: Darragh Gillen (Moville) for S Quinn (37); David Boyle (St Eunans, 0-1) for C Rooney (49); Liam McGrenaghan (Gaeil Fhanada) for F Coyle (58).
TYRONE: Adam Grugan; Callan Kelly, Finbar McTaggart, Joe Hamilton; James Donaghy, Lorcan McGinley, Sean O’Donnell (0-3,3f); Oran McGrath, Conor Colton; Michael Rafferty, Ruairi Canavan (0-5,4f), Tom Grimes; Conor Cush (0-2), Liam Ryan (1-0), Ben Donnelly. Subs: Calum Lagan for T Grimes (h/t); Ruairi Campbell for C Colton (50); Eoin Neill for B Donnelly(54); Dan Muldoon for C Colton (62).
REFEREE: John Murphy (Fermanagh)
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