Donegal U13 ladies take on Antrim in Ballybofey on Sunday in their Championship season opener. But 24 hours beforehand at Watty Graham’s GAA club in Glen, Maghera, the county’s youngest team bring the curtain down on an incredible season by taking on Antrim in the Ulster Final.
The U13s is a new competition open to the province.
After a first-game loss to Antrim, the girls knew they had to win every other game to guarantee a place in the provincial final.
And they had to do it the hard way, winning away to Armagh, Down and at home to Fermanagh before a decider – a two-point win over a much-fancied Monaghan side in Emyvale.
“The girls have shown incredible dedication for this development squad,” said manager Greg Harkin.”
“We have emphasised from the trials in December that this squad is all about developing skills, getting experience and most of all having fun whilst doing it and I think we have managed all that.
“I have two fantastic coaches. Donal O Searcaigh from Naomh Muire is superb at engaging with the girls and has vast experience at this age group and we also have former county and club player and experienced coach Joanne McKenna from Glenfin who brings a unique perspective to everything we do.”
This is a third Ulster final in a row for Harkin, having taken the U14s to an All-Ireland B final in 2015 having secured the Ulster title that year and the U14s again to the Ulster A final last year.
“It’s nice to be in another top final. There only is one final at this age group, at U13s, so it’s nice to be there on the final day of competition again.
“The girls are an incredible group and I have a fantastic captain in Brenda Carr from Glenfin.
“They have all improved every week. We can see it, so that’s very satisfying. I don’t want to single any girls out really but the skill levels are astonishing at times from all of them.”
“I have to mention our sponsors because we can’t do anything without them and the Shandon Hotel & Spa have been great supporters of this squad from the start.
“I have great back-up too from our mentors. Lorena Barron from Convoy, Mary Cassidy from Four Masters and Joan Kellegher Sheerin from Naomh Colmcille Newtown are an important and vital part of the set-up.”
Harkin says Antrim will be hard to beat.
“They have a good team but we didn’t do ourselves justice when we met at O’Donnell Park and the girls have shown incredible character to beat tough Armagh and Monaghan sides on the road since then,” said St Eunan’s clubman Harkin.
“We will go out to play football and I’ll ask the girls to do their best and if they do that I’ll be happy whatever the result.
“The girls know what they want to do when they cross the white line and we’ve shown them how to do it.
“It’s a big day for all of them. A lot of footballers never play in an Ulster Final and these girls – some of them still 12-years-old – will get to do that on Saturday.”
“I have had messages of support from Donegal captain Michael Murphy and senior ladies players like Karen Guthrie. And our ladies chairman Hugh Devenney and the men’s chairman Sean Dunnion have been giving us incredible support through the season.
“These girls will form the bulk of the U14 team for the championship next year and this wonderful season will stand to them in 2018.”
“The hope is that some of them will one day don the county jersey at senior level and that’s what this age group is all about, encouragement and development, as players and as young people, giving them the confidence to one day wear that senior jersey.”
The game is part of a double header in Maghera.
The Donegal U14s under Susanne Gallagher and Seamus McLaughlin (both Downings) take on Armagh at3pm in the Ulster B final.