McGurk Cup final: Donegal v Down (Saturday, The Dub, 4pm)
Donegal boss Mickey McCann is expecting a full strength Down side as the counties clash in the final of the Conor McGurk Cup at the Dub in Belfast on Saturday at 4pm.
The Ardsmen beat Antrim in the semi-final on a massive score of 3-28 to 0-28 on Tuesday night in Dunsilly while Donegal held off a strong Fermanagh challenge to eventually come through on a score of 2-16 to 1-12, their margin of victory was slightly flattering as the two goals came almost when time was up.
But Donegal certainly won’t lack motivation ahead of this clash as they were pipped by Down in 2022 by 1-22 to 2-18 after leading by six points with a just a few minutes to go.
“Down had a full-strength team out against Anrtim who had a number of U-20s so we will be expecting quite a battle on Saturday,” said McCann
“That means the Sands brothers and McCrickards and Taggart will all be there and they turned us over two years ago when we really should have beaten them.
“We let that one slip but that is a learning curve and hopefully we can learn from that an it would be nice to retain the trophy.
“But it will be very tough as Down play in Division Two A of the NHL and Ballycran, Ballygalget and Portaferry are all top class teams from the Ards Peninsula.”
But while McCann would like to retain the trophy his side won last year when they defeated UUJ in the final, the big plus is getting another competitive game ahead of a tough opening NHL tie away to their Nickey Rackard Cup final conquerors Wicklow in Aughrim on February 4.
“This is the last competitive game we will have before the start of the NHL which is three weeks away.
“That is the most important single thing for us as we try and give everybody game time.”
But they will be taking on Down minus two of their vastly experienced players in Declan Coulter and his brother-in-law Danny Cullen.
“Declan picked up a knee injury which will have to be looked at and Danny has a shoulder injury so both of them will not feature on Saturday and may not even be ready for the first round game against Wicklow.”
A few years ago, their absence would be a big blow-but it is a measure of how McCann’s squad has grown in strength that there is not nearly the same dependence on these outstanding servants.
“Naturally we would prefer that we had them given their immense but injuries always give others opportunities and we have a number of big strong younger players who are coming through.”
Liam McKinney, Conor Gartland, Josh McGee Cronolly, Sean Ward, Oisin Marley and Steven McBride are all towering figures in a very well- developed side who have immense physical power.
“The S and C is something we have really worked hard on over the past few years, and we are reaping the rewards.
“And when our team captain Ronan McDermott comes back for the Nickey Rackard Cup we will have a really strong outfit.”
Meanwhile, Antrim will travel to Parnell Park to take on Dublin in the Walsh Cup on Sunday (1.30pm). The Saffrons had last weekend’s game against Westmeath in Kinnegad called off due to the weather while manager Darren Gleeson has been playing largely an U20 in the McGurk Cup.