Donegal are heading to O’Moore Park in Portlaoise to finally clinch their promotion to Division One of the Allianz National Football League.
Their hosts Laois are also in the running for the step up, but are two points behind Donegal who are in pole position at the top of the table on 10 points from their six games. Tyrone and Derry are also eight points along with Laois and are also in the mix and the hunt for promotion and take up third and fourth place respectively on score average. Kildare, on seven, are an outside chance.
A Donegal victory or even a draw will guarantee promotion, but their score average and score for is such that the only time the calculators will come out is if Laois were to emerge four or more point winners. And even at that Tyrone who play relegation threatened Meath in Navan and Derry face Antrim, who are also facing the drop, in Casement Park.
Despite the significance of the game and the importance of getting a positive result Donegal Jim McGuinness was adamant that the Donegal approach would be the same as it has been for all six games to date. The emphasis from day one for McGuinness and his team has been on performance and nothing else.
“Of course we want to go up. But our approach has been all along on performance and getting everything spot on the day and that is our focus this week and will be our approach going out on Sunday,” said McGuinness.
“ We never think of winning or losing before a game the emphasis is always on performance and getting it right on the day and for the game. It has worked well for us all year and we are not going to change it now.”
“ We are going to approach the game in the frame of mind of every man going out and playing to his potential and if that happens the performance will follow and hopefully we will get the desired result. But that will only come if we perform and play to our potential.”
“There are days you go out and perform and win, and there are days you go out and get the performance and get the draw and then there are others days you go out and do not get the performance you desire but you still get the draw. We will not be thinking beforehand that we need a win or a draw. Or it will be okay as long as we do not lose by five or six points as far as we are concerned that does not come into it.”
After a hectic schedule of games and a pretty heavy training programme of training since the start of the season, McGuinness has reduced training one night this week (last night, Wednesday, in Glenfin).
“ I felt after the game on Sunday and given that they are playing seven games in nine weeks, we decided to train just one night this week and give the boys a break so they would be fresh for the game on Sunday. We did the same after the first game against Sligo and did not train until come together until the Friday night and it seemed to work against Tyrone and hopefully, it will be the same on Sunday.”
Donegal and Laois last met last year in round two in Fr. Tierney Park, with Donegal emerging easy 3-11 to 0-5 winners over a disjointed Laois. James Keeney, Conall Dunne and Michael Murphy scoring the goals as Colm McFadden posted four points and Murphy three.
But things have changed quite a lot in both counties in the intervening 12 months. Jim McGuinness has taken over from John Joe Doherty in Donegal and Justin McNulty is the new man calling the shots in Laois.
Two new, modern and forward thinking managers. Personnell wise the teams have changed quite significantly too with Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn, McFadden and Murphy the only ones from that day in Ballyshannon, as McGuinness has gone for change and given youth its fling.
McNulty has even been more extreme in his clean out as only Brendan Begley, Colm Begley, M.J. Tierney who featured in Fr. Tierney Park started last Sunday against Sligo, while Niall Dooher and Daithi Carroll came on as sub down in Markievicz Park.
Donegal go into the game on the back of an unbeaten run with victories over Tyrone, Derry, Meath and Antrim and draws with Sligo and Kildare. Laois bounced back last weekend against Sligo, after two successive defeats to Kildare and Tyrone, to add to their full points returns from their games with Antrim, Derry and Meath.
“Laois are going very well.They are a big strong side and are exceptionally strong around midfield with Padraig Clancy and Brendan Quigley. They also have Colm Begley in the half-forward line and John O’ Loughlin in the half-back line. I have watched a few DVD of their games and they are playing well and seem to be more aggressive than normally you would expect from Laois. They are going into the game with a lot to play for and are going to provide us with a big challenge.”
Sunday’s game is in O’Moore Park, in Portlaoise, the venue where Donegal won promotion to Division One for the very first time back in the Spring of 1988. Donegal won that game 1-5 to 0-3, in a low scoring affair. Expect a few more scores this Sunday, and hopefully the same outcome and history repeating itself.