When Donegal lost out narrowly to Meath in the NHL Division 2B final last year and to Wicklow in the Nickey Rackard Cup, there was one notable absentee.
That was the gifted Sean McVeigh from St Eunan’s, but with strong Ballycastle connections, who had just turned 32 and decided to call time on his county career.
It was no secret that Donegal boss Mickey McCann felt that this was far too soon for an important part of the team as McVeigh’s superb athleticism and skill were badly missed last year.
He is also one of an elite but vanishing dual players as he performed at the highest level for the Letterkenny hurlers and senior footballers.
For Donegal, the good news is that McVeigh was back and buzzing in Saturday’s McGurk Cup semi-final win over Derry and looking fit and fresh for another year.
So what was the thing that brought him back to the centre of the fray as he prepares to face Fermanagh in the Conor McGurk Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.
“It feels great to be back and I feel I got back a bit of hunger in the Ulster club junior campaign with St Eunan’s and we went all the way to the final which was a big achievement for the club,” McVeigh said.
“It made me feel that I might also have a bit more to give to the county set-up as and I was just keen to get back on board.
“Donegal hurling is in a very good place with Setanta winning the Ulster Intermediate title and there is a very strong squad building up these days.”
Donegal were on top throughout during their 4-25 to 1-8 win over a youthful Derry side at Convoy on Saturday.
Gerard Gilmore finished with a tally of 0-8 from frees while Ruairi Campbell, Conor Gartland and Oisin Marley grabbed the other goals while Liam McKinney finished with a tally of 0-6, four from frees.
Manager McCann also ran his bench and of those subs Josh McGee Cronolly was most impressive hitting a fine goal and showing immense physical power.
Donegal were quickly into their stride with burly centre forward Conor Gartland charging through for a point after just 30 seconds.
They piled on the points after that, weathering the storm of a Derry goal from Conor Murtagh which made it a one-point game, and never looked back after Ruairi Campbell found the net just before the break to leave it 1-12 to 1-1 at half-time.
Despite the scoreline, McVeigh admitted they had been preparing for a tough challenge from their neighbours.
“We got off to a winning start but Derry did win the All-Ireland U20 B title last season and they are very well coached but we had a physical advantage in winning balls and driving through tackles to get up the field and that is how it turned out,” he said.
“But there was a bit of sloppiness as it is very early days and the pitch was a bit bumpy but that is the way the pitches are for most of our games.
“We are used to it at this stage so we are not going to complain too much.
McVeigh and Donegal will now face Fermanagh in the semi-final of the competition a side they have already beaten in a challenge by 2-19 to 0-8 after the Ernesiders recorded a five-point victory over Queen’s at the Dub in Belfast.
The other semi-final will see Down take on Antrim after the Ardsmen edged out Louth in Downpatrick on Saturday and the Saffrons were six-point winners over Ulster University at Jordandstown.
McGurk Cup quarter-finals
Donegal 4-25 Derry 1-8
Ulster University 1-13 Antrim 3-13
Down 2-22 Louth 3-18
Queen’s 1-18 Fermanagh 0-29