When Armagh soared to their only All-Ireland senior football championship triumph to date in 2002, Steven McDonnell was a prolific marksman in a turbo-charged attack.
Today McDonnell is tasked with nurturing a fresh generation of Orchard County starlets and as manager of the under-21 side he reaches an important stage in his brief when they face fancied Donegal in the Ulster Championship semi-final at Healy Park, Omagh tonight.
Having set the highest standards as an iconic player, McDonnell is bringing the same level of diligence and commitment to his managerial role.
“I am very determined to try and bring these players on,” says the Killeavy clubman.
“I know Donegal coach Maxie Curran will have done his homework on us in our quarter-final replay win over Antrim last week so I don’t think that we will bring any element of surprise to the table.”
McDonnell acknowledges that his side will need to show an improvement on their display against the Saffrons.
“Antrim were down to 14 players for the greater part of the match, yet they stayed with us. We tended to make things hard for ourselves and we will need to be more direct and accurate tonight,” observes McDonnell.
Ethan Rafferty’s absence was keenly felt in the middle of the park and he may miss out again tonight, which means that Aaron Findon and Blaine Malone could come together in the engine-room while Paul McGeown, Jemar Hall and Callum Comiskey will be key figures up front.
Donegal can look to 2012 All-Ireland winner Patrick McBrearty to spark their attack while the exciting Darrach O’Connor is capable of lending him good support.
Meanwhile, Cavan, the only Ulster county to have gained promotion in the Allianz League so far, will pursue their quest for another significant accolade when they meet neighbours and deadly rivals Monaghan in the other under-21 semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh tonight.
Cavan are in search of their fourth successive provincial crown at this level and are buoyed in this quest by the fact that they have already recorded wins over Derry and Tyrone in the competition.
In Michael Argue they have an outstanding midfielder who has scored eight points from play to date, a gigantic contribution from a player in his position.
Indeed the Cavan attack as a unit is not as potent as manager Peter Reilly would like it to be and he has relied on substitutes to spur the team in their recent games.
Monaghan were given a severe test by Down in their quarter-final and did well to come out on top.
The Farney side have outstanding players in Adam Treanor and Fergal McMahon and can be expected to bring a strong physical edge as well as a high work-rate into tonight’s contest.