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Injured Gillespie our big inspiration in striving for more glory, says Friel

Treble vision: Niall Friel wants a hat-trick of title triumphs
Treble vision: Niall Friel wants a hat-trick of title triumphs

By John Campbell

He may be only 22 years of age but Gaoth Dobhair skipper Niall Friel provides the kind of leadership that could see his side reach the All-Ireland Club Championship final tomorrow.

The Donegal and Ulster champions will confront reigning All-Ireland title holders Corofin (Galway) in a semi-final clash at Carrick-on-Shannon that has captured the imagination of followers throughout the game.

Yet although his side are within touching distance of a place in the decider, Friel reveals that neither individual or collective glory are spurs which help to galvanise his men.

Instead, he reveals that the team has already vowed to try and make it three titles within a matter of months to try and provide compensation for long-term injury victim Ciaran Gillespie for the heartbreak he has endured in missing the club's stunning odyssey to date.

And Friel, clearly mature beyond his years, admits that he himself feels Gillespie's pain more than most.

"He is a superb defender, a great player and for him to have to miss the best year in the club's history has been soul-destroying," insisted the Gaoth Dobhair captain. "There is no doubt that had he been fit he would have been out there giving his all.

"Words cannot explain what that man has been through. He is a next door neighbour of mine. I can look out of my kitchen window and see his house. We lived in each other's houses when we were younger and I know the work he has been putting in on the rehab front in order to get fit again.

"He landed down one day to training on crutches and every man in the squad said that they would try and make it three titles for him. That shows you the level of respect he enjoys."

While Gillespie's absence is felt, Gaoth Dobhair manager Mervyn O'Donnell is confident that his defence - which includes the 2012 Donegal All-Ireland-winning McGee brothers Eamon and Neil, Gary McFadden and skipper Friel - will stand up to the threat of a Corofin attack which includes Galway aces Michael Lundy and Ian Burke.

"We have grown used to being cast as underdogs but you take these Championship games one by one," he pointed out.

"You take a look at your own team and the opposition, you try to get your match-ups right and then you just hope that the team steps up to the plate on the day."

In overcoming Crossmaglen Rangers and Scotstown in particular on their way to the Ulster Club title, Gaoth Dobhair have shown themselves to be a well-organised, cohesive side with a non-stop work rate.

"If we can produce the same level of effort in the semi-final then I don't think we will be too far away," added manager O'Donnell.

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