By Patrick Sharkey,
Competitive inter-county GAA is now six months from the resumption, but 2023 is already certain to be a campaign like no other. However, all focus in Donegal turns eyes towards the senior hurling final.
Setanta had a very calm and assuring presence in the Donegal championship all year. This was under the guidance of Ollie Bellew ‘Badger’ being in the management set up and he is not getting too ahead of himself saying: “I am confident that we have prepared well and that we have a good plan in place.”
Mr Bellew added: “The mood is focused and determined. We are not looking any further than our next training session on Thursday night.” However, Gary McGettigan’s charges have not looked that dominant thus far and face a free-scoring Burt team who will evaluate their defensive structures.
Declan Coulter was Setanta’s top scorer during their victorious match against Buncrana for the Donegal Senior hurling Championship semi-final on July 15. Bellew is impressed with the commitment levels shown by the likes of Declan Coulter saying: “You can have the best setups in the world but if you have not got the players who are committed and are prepared to do what it takes, it is irrelevant. These lads are very dedicated to the club and to hurling for Setanta that the rest does not matter. They look after themselves well and work like any intercounty hurling team when they come to training.”
Ollie added: “They’re inspirational people.” The Belfast native left pacified that Friday after the standstill game involving a Setanta GAA team on Donegal semi-final night. His adopted club of Setanta came out victorious in the showpiece of the GAA calendar, getting to their 30th final in style.
Bellew, who left crushed by the disappointment of missing a Lory Meagher cup success in 2021, made it clear he finished with inter-county management for now, after stepping down as Cavan boss in 2021. The former Cavan boss is content with what he must work for within East Donegal saying: “Our panel is incredibly talented. We’ve four 18-year-olds that are holding their own with the established players every night in training. We have hugely influential players on every single line, and it just depends on where the game plays out.” Setanta has emerged as a surprise candidate for an Ulster.
Setanta unsurprisingly dominated PWC’s Team of the Year after Donegal gave Mayo a beating in the Nicky Rackard cup final in 2020. Setanta however will only focus on the starting XV put forward.
Ollie Bellew ‘Badger’ has sent a clear message about how they will lock their horns against Burt.
Donegal GAA has confirmed today, that the doubleheader will be live on Donegal GAATV costing €6 for both games. Mr Bellew does not worry about one Burt player shining through and catching the viewers’ attention.
They have more strings to their bow and do more work than promote and support football and hurling but the GAA remains very much at the essence of the two GAA clubs in the cross. However, they know how to deal with Burt as Bellew made it clear: “We’ve seen Burt already in the league.”
Ollie added: “They are well organised. Hugely energetic with young talent to add. If we focus our energy on one individual, we will be losing focus elsewhere. We will be working as a unit to keep them at bay and hopefully keep the scoreboard ticking in our favour” It has improved for Setanta.
A round-up of the preview with the Belfast native focused on the split season. The former Cavan manager is in favour of it saying: “It is strange with all the traditional dates going with first and third Sunday in September and Paddy’s Day, but it is working quite well. A top inter County player could be flogged year in, year out and will fall out of love with the game. There is a freshness to it now.”
Badger added: “That’s my opinion anyway. I know in Setanta we do not see the county lads until Donegal’s season wraps up and that is only fair. So, when we do see them back, they are re-energised after a couple of weeks break.” It is moments like this that matter to Setanta’s hurling club.
A GAA club in Inishowen has appealed for the return of their championship ahead of this weekend’s Donegal GAA final. Burt Stalwart Paul Burns told their side of the story saying: “We are a noticeably young team with our lads still under the age of 20 years old and with experience Setanta has it is hard to know. We are the underdogs for sure but in a final, anything can happen.” The lucky trophy was named ‘Donegal Senior Hurling championship’ by the Donegal Gaelic Athletic Association in Convoy.
It would be a shock if Burt won on Saturday. However, Mr Burns is confident saying: “All these young lads are pushing us on now there are too many to name. “However, Burt had the upper hand on Setanta in their last collision in a county final in 2018, coming out on top. However, the community in Burt is not taking days like this for granted anymore. Burt has more than one talented hurler and every player represented their local club with distinction at the underage level. The locally grown talent is something that the Burt faithful are proud to have addressed. The hurling history and tradition of Burt is one that is larger than life. Burt has built this current side from well-run Féile Na nGael sides.
The Donegal club hurling championships finals will happen in O’Donnell Park this weekend with junior, intermediate, and senior players all togged out for the occasion. Setanta will have all the big names and Paul named the players in the green and black that Burt will keep an eye on.
The Grand Canal Hotel, the Official Partner of Donegal GAA, has launched its championship.
The more experienced Burt players have denied the Setanta panel more medals in the past and all the players are out to win. The goalkeeper knows the hunger that Setanta poses saying: “Setanta has an effective team with likes of Danny Cullen, Decky Coulter, Gerry Gilmore, Bernard Lafferty, and Josh Mc Gee.” Both teams are the Kilkenny and Tipperary of Donegal hurling and have suffered.
However, Burt has allowed their youth development to guide them to a safe return to the final. The Donegal legend their impact saying: “We a lot of history of being in hurling finals and the last time we were in a final was 2018, it has been too long for us.”
Paul Burns added: “Time and effort has been put into this team over the last two to three years so hopefully we can give the management, club, and the people of your parish something to shout about again!” This is the result of resolute members of their coaching team helping young players.
Burt however have not suffered from Withdrawal symptoms after an unexpected absence from the top level for the last four years due to the junior team acting as a steppingstone for the first team with Mr. Burns saying: “The Junior has been massive for us because in the last two year there been about 20 lads who have come through to seniors from our underage set up and it gave the young lads a chance to get a game time at a senior level instead of being thrown in at the deep end plus we got back a few older heads to help them develop at that level. Also, it helps at training when you are getting big numbers at training it makes it a whole lot better and brings a bit of craic to it as well.” In Paul Burn’s mind, the junior hurlers of yesterday have become the best senior hurlers today. Burns thinks that the Burt management team is really reaping the awards from all their youth.