GAA Football

Donegal championship is Gaoth Dobhair's to lose says St Eunan's boss Maxi Curran

St Eunan's manager Maxi Curran is relishing his side's tough group in the Donegal SFC

Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure Donegal SFC: St Eunan’s v Gaoth Dobhair (Letterkenny, 5pm, Sunday)

THERE have been no shortage of scalps left on the canvas of the Donegal championship’s group stage in recent years, and this autumn’s will be no different.

The unseeded draw tends to throw up a group of death, and this year it has left St Eunan’s, Gaoth Dobhair and Naomh Conaill playing musical chairs with only two to sit on.

The Glenties were last year’s beaten finalists and victors in 2015. They took the crown off St Eunan’s, beating them by a point in the decider after the Letterkenny men had won it in 2014.

Gaoth Dobhair’s recent league success suggests they are edging towards fulfilling the promise of a run of successful underage teams in recent years, but they’ve struggled in the championship at senior level and haven’t won one since 2006.

Sunday evening is the first and it could be the last for one of them. St Eunan’s host Gaoth Dobhair in a repeat of last year’s quarter-final, which the Gaeltacht men won a year ago to the day from this weekend’s encounter in O’Donnell Park.

St Eunan’s have to travel to the Glenties – who subsequently wrecked Gaoth Dobhair’s hopes in last year’s semi-final – for their final game of the group stage, making a win for them look that little bit more imperative than it does for Mervyn O’Donnell’s men.

“That’s the beauty of the group stages, it’s not do or die but there are very grave consequences if you lose,” said St Eunan’s boss Maxi Curran, back at the helm this year having been in charge in 2014 and ’15 before joining Rory Gallagher full-time on the Donegal scene for two years.

“We have to go to Glenties in our last game, and we’re away to Dungloe as well. That’s what boys want to be playing, big games against the better teams. This is a good test for our boys.”

A run of good minor teams culminated in an Ulster under-21 club championship earlier this year for Gaoth Dobhair, and their league performances this season have seen them installed as second favourites behind champions Kilcar, who will be without injured talisman Patrick McBrearty.

Curran, who also manages Donegal’s senior ladies team, believes that his side’s weekend opponents will be “a very dangerous animal for this year’s championship.”

“Their under-21 team strolled through Ulster last year and won it a lot easier than any Donegal team has ever done.

“They’ve come with two or three good minor teams, those players are starting to fulfil their promise, and then you have the experienced campaigners like the McGees and Cassidy, and Odhran MacNiallais for good measure.

“But at the same time, Gaoth Dobhair haven’t won a championship in a long time and that brings a bit of hunger, but a bit of tension as well.

“They haven’t that to fall back on, they haven’t got over the line of winning a championship recently.

“You’d have to figure looking at all the indicators that it’s Gaoth Dobhair’s to lose – that’s the whole championship, let alone the game on Sunday.

“They have a stronger squad than anybody else, they have a bit of experience and a bit of youth, and they had five men on the county senior panel this year as well. They’re a very experienced outfit and they’ve got energy from the younger fellas.”

But that does not equate to fear for St Eunan’s, who still have Rory Kavanagh and Conall Dunne at the heart of things, and a trio of current Donegal panellists in Connor Morrison, Caolan Ward and Eamonn Doherty.

“We’ll know a lot about ourselves but we’re well able to beat Gaoth Dobhair at home and Glenties away. A lot of it’s in our own hands,” said Curran.

“We’re not looking to cause a massive shock by beating anybody, we’re well able to beat any team on our day. That’s important, but Gaoth Dobhair will feel the same and Glenties will feel the same. That adds to the excitement.”

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