The loss of the club finals on St Patrick's Day is worth it, if it gives players some time off.

That's according to Naomh Conaill and Donegal star Leo McLoone, who is hoping to win a first ever Ulster title with his club on Sunday.

Players on inter-county teams which get to the business end of the championship, who also play on successful club sides, are finding that their time away from the game is very limited.

Colin Fennelly's last 12 months are a good example of the demands which success can bring.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks star helped his club to claim the 2018 Kilkenny championship, before they went on to secure Leinster, and eventually All-Ireland medals, running up to March of this year.

With the Cats, Fennelly played his part in ultimately unsuccessful runs to both the Leinster and All-Ireland deciders, before returning to his club to help them defend their county title.

For McLoone, something had to give, even if it meant giving up such a prominent day in the national psyche.

"Aye, I think it is a positive, alright," he said of the club finals being played in January.

"It's been done with the players' interests [in mind]. It didn't make a lot of sense that club teams would have to wait a month or more on a game and then another month for a final.

"It does make sense that the season, as a whole, for all teams, will be compacted. There's a lot going on and players are getting burnt out.

"It was always a special day in the GAA calendar. Patrick's Day was the club finals and it was a nice day for it.

"People were off work. There's that element too that it had to happen.

"When you're putting things together for a whole season, and players have to play for their counties in the same season, it makes sense."

Leo McLoone

McLoone is quick to point out that himself and his teammates are not thinking about the All-Ireland final, with Sunday's clash against Down champions Kilcoo their only priority.

Victories for Donegal clubs in the province are exceptionally rare, with Gaobh Dobhair's triumph last season just the second in the history of the competition, some 43 years after St. Joseph's claimed the title.

It's been a good time to be involved with the Glenties men though, a fact that McLoone is only too aware of.

When he captained the club to the county championship in 2015, it was the fiftieth anniversary of his own father leading the parish to the final in 1965.

The game went against McLoone senior, and forty years of disappointment followed, until they finally broke their duck in 2005.

It's been a fruitful period since, with four titles in 15 years. It took a second replay to finally dethrone Gaobh Dobhair, but for McCloone, their victory in 2018 is a boost for the Donegal club scene.

"There’s a lot of hurt for them older fellas too that they never actually got the club championship," admits McLoone. 

"I think over the years you have seen what it meant to them and to the people of Glenties.

"Winning is everything and we know football is such a big part of everyone’s life. Not just in Glenties but in the clubs throughout Ireland. 

"Gaoth Dobhair showed the way, that there's room in Ulster for Donegal teams to advance."

The generation that delivered a first county title for the parish will be hoping to do the same in Ulster this weekend.

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