No one was more surprised than Donal O’Hare himself when he was parachuted into the Down side at the eleventh hour for the Ulster Championship quarter-final tie against Fermanagh earlier this month.
But his surprise did not prevent him from making a stunning impact. By the 20th minute he had landed 1-1 and in the process convinced manager James McCartan that he had much to offer the team.
Now the 21-year-old Burren clubman is hoping to get the vote to face Monaghan in Sunday’s semi-final at the Morgan Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
McCartan has options to consider especially as Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon are not expected to be available once again and Aidan Brannigan is suspended, but he is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“We were happy to get the win over Fermanagh and Donal did well but then I thought that several players stood up to the mark,” says McCartan.
“We are now going in against a Monaghan side that will be keen to reach the final for the second time in three years. Our own record in the Ulster Championship since 1994 does not make for good reading.”
O’Hare initially caught the eye through the quality of his performances for his club Burren has since matured into a forward of immense promise.
“Obviously we were without Benny Coulter against Fermanagh and he’s a difficult player to replace but the attack as a unit did quite well although we realised leaving Brewster Park that we had more work to do,” adds McCartan.
O’Hare was drafted in for Arthur McConville who had initially been named in the published team but had to settle for getting a late chance as a substitute.
Now McConville, like O’Hare, is pushing for a slot against Monaghan while Conor Laverty is assured of a starting berth following his riveting performance against Peter Canavan’s side.
The Kilcoo dynamo remains cautious, though, as he focuses on the threat that a fired-up Monaghan will pose.
“Monaghan were in the Ulster final a couple of years ago and they will be very keen to go even further this year,” states Laverty, “While we were happy to get over Fermanagh, we know that we face a bigger test on Sunday. Competition for places has increased and this will give the management a headache but I’m sure that it’s a headache they will relish.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Niblock could be a surprise inclusion in the Antrim squad for the qualifier against London on Saturday week at Ruislip.
Niblock is currently based in Wales and it is understood that he may link up with Liam Bradley’s side who are anxious to return to winning ways following their Ulster Championship defeat to Monaghan.
Antrim expect to be at full strength for their cross-channel safari with manager Bradley acutely conscious of the fate that Fermanagh suffered at Ruislip last year.
“We had actually hoped to make it into the Ulster final this year but it wasn’t to be. Now we have to focus on this game against London who will be very happy to be playing at home,” points out Bradley.