Ulster Club Final: Boss O'Donnell kick-started Gweedore revival says MacNiallais

Gweedore's Odhran MacNiallais tries to win the ball ahead of Crossmaglen's Stephen Morris in the Ulster semi-final
Odhran MacNiallais (right) says manager Mervyn O'Donnell has turned around Gweedore's fortunes
Ulster Club SFC Final: Gweedore v Scotstown
Venue: Healy Park, Omagh Date: Sunday, 2 December Throw-in: 14:00 GMT
Coverage: Radio commentary on BBC Radio Ulster MW; score updates and match report on BBC Sport website.

Odhran MacNiallais says manager Mervyn O'Donnell's input is the main reason why Gweedore have turned from being also-rans in Donegal to potential Ulster Club champions this weekend.

O'Donnell took on the job in late 2016 after the Gaeltacht men had gone a decade without a Donegal title.

This was a club that still remained the joint most successful outfit along with St Eunan's having won 14 titles.

"Mervyn has given us a kick up the ass," says MacNiallais succinctly.

"He's brought Michael Boyle in this year as well as coach and they have brought it to a different level.

"It's a very professional set-up now. I would probably put it down to that and all the players giving it a real shot this year."

'Increased player buy-in'

O'Donnell's methods enable Gweedore to reach the Donegal semi-finals last year where they lost by a point to Naomh Conaill - a result they avenged in last month's county decider.

According to MacNiallais, that improvement in the club's fortunes then led to an increased buy-in from the players this year.

"We've always had ambitions to do well and win stuff but there was never really every man rowing in.

"There was always people rowing other ways with every man not having the same level of commitment."

Kevin Cassidy celebrates his clinching goal in the Ulster semi-final win over Crossmaglen
Veteran Kevin Cassidy has hit three goals in Gweedore's run to the Ulster Final

Cassidy return a masterstroke

MacNiallais also says O'Donnell's decision to coax a 34-year-old Kevin Cassidy back in the Gweedore side was a masterstroke.

"Cass stepped away a couple of years ago but Mervyn came in last year and got on to Cass to come back.

"A few of us boys were on to him as well. He's a great man to even have around - never mind how good he's playing at the moment."

Cassidy's displays as a target man full-forward in Gweedore's recent games have been reminiscent of Tony Boyle in his pomp - and with probably a bit more pace also part of his armoury.

Midfielder MacNiallais' performances - both in terms of open play and scoring - have been just as important to the Donegal champions as he hit eight points in the win over Cargin before starring again in the surprise win over Crossmaglen.

With the two McGee brothers Neil and Eamon still part of the defence and Cian Mulligan, Michael Carroll and semi-final hat-trick hero Dara O Baoill all offensive threats, Gweedore are well stocked with players with Donegal experience.

They would have one more on Sunday as well had Kieran Gillespie not suffered a cruciate ligament injury in the opening seconds of the Cargin game.

Crossmaglen's Rian O'Neill challenges Gweedore's Neil McGee in the Ulster semi-final
Neil McGee is among several Donegal stars in the Gweedore team

Ulster title 'would be unbelievable'

But Gweedore have in-form players all over the park.

Five foot five inch Naoise O Baoill, a cousin of Dara, produced another all-action display against Crossmaglen while captain Niall Friel has also been influential for Mervyn O'Donnell's side in addition to star down status when it comes to delivering victory speeches.

Friel's oratory after Gweedore Under-21s' Ulster title last February went viral in the GAA world and he will be hoping to have the task of coming up with more stirring post-match words this weekend.

However, MacNiallais says the Gaeltacht men will face a "huge task" against a Scotstown side which includes the Hughes brothers Darren and Kieran, as well as other Monaghan stars Rory Beggan, Conor McCarthy and Shane Carey.

"But it's one we're looking forward to and we're ready for. We've a lot of work done and every man is mad to go now," says the Gweedore midfielder.

As to what victory would mean for Gweedore, MacNiallais replies: "I don't know if I could put it into words. It's hard to explain.

"It would be for massive for the club and massive for the parish because you could see what the county championship meant to everybody. It was 12 years since we won it. That meant a lot to people.

"To win an Ulster now would be just unbelievable."

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