Down and Donegal get ready for first date
There is not the slightest danger that familiarity will breed even a hint of contempt on the part of Down or Donegal as they prepare for the first of three crucial contests — at the very least — this season.
Tonight the teams will go head to head in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at Brewster Park, Enniskillen (7.30pm) and then on March 13 they will renew their rivalry in the National Football League at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
But the most important clash of all — and certainly the most high-profile — is scheduled for May 30 in the Ulster Senior Football Championship first round at Ballybofey.
For the moment, though, the respective managers James McCartan (Down) and John Joe Doherty (Donegal) are at pains to play down the mild outbreak of euphoria that has greeted their teams’ unbeaten surges to date in the McKenna Cup.
McCartan, in his first season in charge, is particularly guarded in assessing Down’s prospects while Doherty has even more reason to tread cautiously given that his side won the trophy last year before suffering relegation in the National League and then collapsing against Antrim in the Ulster Championship.
Down’s wins over Queen’s, Antrim and Derry to date have not surprisingly sparked the notion that McCartan might oversee a major renaissance but the manager is quick to defuse what he views as nothing more than idle speculation.
“Look, we have won a few games in January, that’s about the height of it. This does not count for much in the grand scheme of things.
“We are going in against an unbeaten Donegal side who will give us a big test and then we have a very difficult itinerary starting in the National League on Sunday week against Kildare so we certainly will not be losing the run of ourselves,” asserts McCartan, never a man to mince his words either as a player or manager.
Daniel Hughes and Benny Coulter were absent from a Down attack that flourished in the first half against Derry on Sunday before Paul McComiskey strode centre stage to fire over the two scores
that clinched victory for the Mournemen in the dying minutes. All three may see action tonight against a Donegal side that may perhaps be relying rather too heavily on the hugely talented Michael Murphy even at this early juncture.
Meanwhile, Setanta Sports have announced their intention to bid for rights to broadcast the GAA championships when they come up for tender again in 12 months' time.
After announcing details of its coverage of the National Leagues which sees the station broadcast two live games each Saturday evening through February and March, Niall Cogley of Setanta Sports hinted the broadcaster could be ready to expand their interest in the Gaelic Games market.
“I think the tender process is going to shape what response the various broadcasters have to it. The continuing enthusiasm of the respective broadcasters would also shape that,” he said.
“The world has changed. It has changed very dramatically for us over the last year, as has been pretty well documented. But it has also changed for all the other broadcasters too.
“We'd hope to be in there participating and we will have to wait and see what shape and timing the tender process takes.”
Legislation provides for certain games, such as the All Ireland finals, to be shown on free to air channels but Cogley insisted that would not rule out Setanta.
“That wouldn't even preclude us from participating alongside another broadcaster for example. But it is far too early to say what they will want to do.
“I am sure the GAA haven't even really thought about it themselves at this stage.”