Four Masters may start as favourites but Dungiven could spoil the party

Fona/CAB Ulster Minor Football final

Shaw’s Road-Sunday 1-00pm

Four Masters (Donegal) v Dungiven (Derry)

The Fona/CAB Ulster Minor Football Club final at St. Paul’s on St. Stephen’s Day should attract a big crowd to the Shaw’s Road venue as Derry Champions, Dungiven take on Four Masters of Donegal in what promises to be an excellent final.

Both sides have impressed in their run to Sunday’s decider with Four Masters defeating Donnaghmore of Tyrone in last weekend’s semi-final while St. Canice had two points to spare over a battling Burren in their semi-final a week earlier.

By virtue of their impressive performance against a fancied Donnaghmore on Boxing Day the Donegal Town side will probably start Sunday’s decider as favourites and Four Masters have earned the favourites tag with a preliminary round win over St. Molaise of Fermanagh before beating Clan na Gael of Armagh in the quarter-final.

Dungiven began their campaign with a 3-12 to 0-11 quarter-final win over Ramor United of Cavan at St. Paul’s and Shaw’s Road was again the venue when they defeated Down champions Burren in a close encounter in the semi-final.

Four Masters dominated their semi-final against Tyrone’s Donaghmore on a bitterly cold and windy Boxing Day and had the contest more or less sewn up at the halfway stage when they led 1-5 to 0-0 at the break after dominating the opening half with the elements in their favour.

The Tyrone champions threated a comeback at the start of the second half when they shot the first four points by the 42nd minute. That was as close as Donaghmore would come as Four Master’s regained control and kicked their first point of the half with 12 minutes remaining.

A minute later Seanán Carr played a free short to Conor Meehan, he shot high towards the target, the ball hung in the wind and then dropped to the corner-forward – whose effort was deflected over the bar.

Noah Grimes replied with a free for Donaghmore, but the Tyrone side needed a goal to apply any sort of late pressure.

It was Four Masters who would finish the afternoon’s scoring courtesy of a further Meehan point that brought his tally to 1-05 for the afternoon.

Odhran Murphy was the go-to man as Dungiven outpointed Burren in a tight semi-final swinging it in his side’s direction in the end.

The St. Canice’s full-forward opened the scoring after his colleague, Odhran McElhinney pulled off a great save to deny the opposition in the opening minutes and followed up to make it 0-3 to 0-0 after Eoin Higgins had added a second.

Burren had gone close with that opening effort on goal and finally breeched the Dungiven defence when Odhran McAuley got on the end of an excellent build up to fire past McElhinney and bring the sides level.

The Derry champions were quickly back in front with a goal of their own and Donach McGonigle was the man who applied the finish after a flowing move opened up the Down champions defence and with Murphy adding some excellent points they led 1-5 to 1-2 at the interval and were good value for that lead.

Murphy kept the Derry champions noses in front in a tight second half with a couple of long range points and two more from Eoin Higgins kept them in front before Murphy followed up on an excellent save from the penalty spot by Ronan Downey to return his original effort to the net.

It’s never easy to call but by virtue of that semi-final win over Donaghmore Four Masters will probably have gained the unwanted tag of favourites but the Donegal Town side would do well not to take too much notice of the pundits.

Indeed a look back at the tournament since its inception shows that Derry clubs have a proud record in the competition and have indeed dominated the role of honour at St. Paul’s.

The last final played back in 2019 before Covid put the Ulster Minor tournament on hold saw Lavey defeat Termon 0-9 to 0-8 in another tight Derry v Donegal final while the previous year an excellent Bellaghy side hammered Crossmaglen Rangers.

Glen Maghera won four in a row from 2011 to 2014 and Derry clubs dominated the tournament during the 90’s where they collected 8 titles.

Indeed you have to go back to 1992 when Aodh Ruadh beat Clan na Gael for the last time a Donegal side would win the coveted Fona/CAB sponsored tournament and further back to 1984 and 1985 for the only other Donegal successes when Killybegs beat Sarsfield’s and then St. Paul’s the following year.

Fiachra O’Donnell, Johnny Bell, David Monaghan, Seanán Carr, Conor Meehan and Daniel Quinn will carry the hopes of Four Masters while Jack Dunne, Kevin Barry Murphy, Padraig O’Kane, Odhran Murphy, Eoin Higgins and Darach McGonigle are amongst the Dungiven men hoping to spoil the party.

An excellent Termon came close to bucking the trend last year and a big and powerful Four Masters will feel that they have the players to put Donegal back on the winner’s rostrum on St. Stephen’s day but Dungiven will have other ideas and this one could go either way.

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