Hurling and camogie

Donegal hurling boss McCann challenges younger players to stand up in McGurk Cup challenge

Donegal manager Mickey McCann is happy with how the younger members have staked claims for places in the absence of more experienced players Picture: Mal McCann
Gerry McLaughlin

The semi-final pairings for the Conor McGurk were finalised on Monday night following victories for Antrim and Queen's University over Armagh and Down respectively. The Saffrons' rearranged fixture with Armagh at Dunsilly saw the home side run out 1-25 to 0-21 winners over Karl McKeegan's Orchard side.

Seamie McAuley got the only goal of the game as part of his 1-4 haul from play while Fiontann Donnelly accounted for 0-14 of Armagh's 0-21 total.

The results sets up a semi-final for the young Antrim side against last year's beaten finalists Donegal.

The Tir Chonaill men scored a comprehensive victory over Monaghan in Convoy on Saturday, despite have to deal with the news last week that they would be without star forward Davin Flynn for the season.

The 3-31to 0-8 win may not have been ideal preparation for much tougher days ahead, but Donegal team boss Mickey McCann was pleased with the way his team went about the business of dismantling the Farney challenge.

And McCann sent out a clear message that places on the team are decided on merit as a host of younger players have emerged and are keen to be starting for the semi-final showdown with the Saffrons on Saturday.

"The days when you could walk on to a county are long gone," McCann said.

He must have been especially pleased at the way his fellow Burt men Liam McKinney and Conor Gartland performed in an impressive team display.

“We had a good tall at the start at what we wanted to do," the Donegal manager added.

“The result was not all that important but the more games you get in this competition the better, so we really wanted to win and it is about getting those young boys up to the level of work that is required.

“We know we will have much tougher tests down the line, but Conor Gartland really stepped up in the middle of the park, boys that you might be worried about physically, but they all stepped up and that was great to see.

And young Liam McKinney was entrusted with hitting most of the frees.

“Yes Liam is a very good free taker and one of the most important things about a free taker is that he practices and Liam does loads of this and is very committed and does it on his own.

“And we have other very good free-takers in Richie Ryan, Declan Coulter, who did not start today and Daire O'Maoileidigh.

“We felt we could give Liam a call today and he missed no frees in the county final and a lot of them were under pressure which is a good sign of a free- taker and we are spoiled for choice."

McCann did not have the talismanic Danny Cullen who is away skiing. When asked about other absentees he said that the county wants players who want to play, and he hinted that he might try and get the vastly experienced Sean McVeigh out of retirement.

“Sean McVeigh and Bernard Lafferty could definitely offer you something, but they have got to want it.

“Davin Flynn does not seem to be available at all, but we have a pretty good forward line.

“There are plenty of boys in the county that would make us stronger, but if they are not available, we just have to move on and we have got to set the standards right for these young boys. You just can't walk on to a team anymore.

“You have got to put the hard yards in in the winter months and get yourself up to a good level of fitness otherwise you will get caught out in March and April."

The other semi-final will see Queen's take on Ulster University after the south Belfast university's win over a young Down team on Monday in a high-scoring affair. However, there was plenty to please Down senior boss Ronan Sheehan as Portaferry's Tom McGrattan was among those to find the net for Queen's in a 4-21 to 3-23 win. McGrattan bagged two goals but it took an injury-time major from Niall Milligan to win it for the Students after they trailed by two points at the full-time mark to last year's champions.

The smash-and-grab effort sets up a semi-final against UU who booked a last four place with a 1-21 to 2-15 win over Fermanagh at the weekend.