Regan: Naomh Conaill’s league success kept ‘players on their toes’ ahead of belated championship final

Regan: Naomh Conaill’s league success kept ‘players on their toes’ ahead of belated championship final

Naomh Conaill were the 2019 Donegal SFC winners

When a couple of the Naomh Conaill stalwarts like Brendan ‘Bradas’ O’Donnell and Martin Doherty were asked by the local media how many times their club had won the All-County League last Friday, they began to think.

“Two,” was their answer. “The first one was in 2002 and then we won it again in 2011. Jeez that first one was celebrated like we won the World Cup! Remember that?”

Times have changed in Glenties, with the Naomh Conaill club this year 100 years old. On Friday, a lovely summer’s evening, they sealed their seventh win from seven to confirm a third league title with a 5-19 to 0-5 hammering of Killybegs. 

It wasn’t celebrated like any World Cup and there weren’t too many Olé Olés as the panel quietly conducted their warm-down and headed for home. The reserves sealed their title on Saturday against the same opposition with a similarly emphatic win, 4-19 to 0-4.

Almost 11 months will have passed since Naomh Conaill’s semi-final win over St Eunan’s in Ballybofey and the final against Kilcar, which this week has been confirmed to take place on Saturday, August 14. A handful of dates had been bandied around last autumn for the 2020 season finale before Donegal was put into lockdown and all plans were shelved.

“We would’ve liked to have played it at the initial time last October and even when word came through in the new year that football would be starting up the chance never reality came,” manager Martin Regan says. “That window didn’t open. Like looking back now even at October last year, it wasn’t possible with the different cases. 

“We would’ve thought since January the priority should’ve been the 2020 final and we shouldn’t be starting other competitions before the other ones aren’t finished. We were looking at maybe April or May.”

Regan, though, used the time productively and when you peel back the results, his team have won 15 on the bounce - should you include last year’s two regional league outings against St Naul’s and Dungloe. Their last defeat was against Kilcoo in the 2019 Ulster Club SFC final. Six championship wins followed in 2020, seven league wins in 2021.

“We’re happy to have wrapped up the league, as we haven’t won a league in 10 years and we were missing the county players every day,” Regan adds. “Players have stepped up in their absence and at least now they have something to show for it.

“There’s a huge squad there now, more players than we’ve had in the last number of years. We’re very lucky in that respect and we’ve got players coming through. We’ve managed to hold onto our older players over the last few years and with the younger ones, it means that our panel size is growing. It’s great for training and it’s great for games.”

There was no trophy presentation last Friday. It will have to wait until the final league match is contested. Cloughaneely and Bundoran are Naomh Conaill’s last two fixtures. They, though, will not take place until after the upcoming final against John McNulty’s Kilcar. After so long waiting around, it’s now Naomh Conaill’s next fixture.

“It would’ve been nice to get the trophy but we’ve been told to wait until the last league game, but that might be a while before we know when that is,” Regan says. “It probably should’ve been presented as we’re at home but it is what it is and it’s Kilcar next up in a couple of weeks.

“Throughout the league this season the focus was always on the championship final so it kept people on their toes as they want to play in that final now. It kept us fresh. We know now that the final is our next game. I couldn’t see the league being finished before the championship and at least we’ve a date to focus on now.” 

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