Donegal fire their first shots in the new season when they face Fermanagh in Division 3A of the Allianz National Hurling League.
The game is in Fr Tierney Park, Ballyshannon, with a 2 pm throw in. It is the first tie in a five game campaign and is only one of two home games. The other is their second last round tie against Monaghan, which is in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.
Longford, Roscommon and Louth conceivably along with Donegal themselves, the strongest teams in the league, are the other teams in the section.
Yet despite this Donegal, who reached the Division 3 final last year before losing to Fingal in the decider, are aiming to go one better this year and win promotion.
“The target is promotion up to Division Two,” said Danny Cullen, who at 26 is now one of the experienced men in the Donegal squad.
“We got to the final last year, but did not perform on the day against Fingal and missed out on the chance to go up.”
The disappointment of not performing and missing out on the chance of promotion runs deep in the Donegal squad. And it now is their main driving force and inspiration as they head into the new season.
“With the three away games we know it is going to be difficult. But we feel we are good enough. We were good enough to get to the final last year and we also won the Nicky Rackard Cup which is proof that we are good enough.
“So it is a matter of going out now and performing. We have the work done; we have been back training since the start of the new year doing collective training three times a week and doing two sessions a week in the gym as well.
“Mickey McCann has joined Ray (Durack) this season and he is doing the training and our gym membership has been organised this year by the county board.
“We also have been on a strength and conditioning programme under Michael Black, so everybody is in good shape. I also think we have a stronger squad than last year with a number of new lads been added to the squad.”
Chris and Ciaran Kilgallon, Stephen Sheerin and Paul Hughes from Aodh Ruadh; Jonathan Downey, Burt and Dylan Lafferty, MacCumhaill’s, have all joined the squad. Martin Bonner from Setanta is back in the panel and Kevin Campbell, after a year in College in Scotland ,is based at home again and is in good shape.
“The squad is also very young. I’m 26 and I’m one of the oldest. There are a couple of the lads around the 30 mark but after that and myself and Kevin Campbell and Jamsie Donnelly all of the rest of the lads are in their early 20s and are all very skilful hurlers.
“All of which bodes well for the future and that is why I think it is important that we win promotion and get up to playing at a higher standard. I feel we have the squad to do that and we are good enough to compete at a higher level.”
Donegal may have the Indian sign over Sunday’s opponents in recent years, but if they had, Danny Cullen is wary of the challenge both Fermanagh and the prevailing weather conditions pose.
“We have a very skilful and light team who like a dry and fast sod. But this time of year pitches are heavier and the games are not is fast and doesn’t suit us like it might Fermanagh and other teams.
“This is something we have to be aware of on Sunday and Fermanagh are not going to be easy and we are expecting a right battle for the points.”
Danny Cullen teaches maths and geography in St Patrick’s College in Navan and lives in Dublin. He was a member of the Ulster squad along with his county colleagues Sean McVeigh and Ciaran Matthewson who lost to Leinster last weekend in the Inter-Provincial semi-final last weekend.