Donegal manager Jim McGuinness is gearing up his troops this week for Sunday’s Allianz National Football League clash with Monaghan.
McGuinness believes that Sunday’s game against the Farney County and reigning Ulster champions, is his team’s stiffest challenge this season so far.
And while he insisted that both Laois and Galway were tricky assignments, he always looked upon the Ulster final rematch as going to be his team’s first test of 2014. Monaghan pulled off one of the major shocks of last summer when they defeated Donegal by six points, 0-13 to 0-7, in the Ulster final.
“It is a big game. They are the Ulster champions. They are going well and have only dropped a point so far and they are going to be up for the game in a big way,” the Donegal boss told the Democrat.
“Laois and Galway could not be taken for granted but I always felt this was going to be our first real test. The fact that they seemed to have stepped up from last year and have hit the ground running in 2014, means it is going to be a tight challenge for us.”
But the Donegal boss insists that his charges are going well too and are in much better shape than they were when the sides last met in the Ulster final.
“We had a lot of players struggling with fitess due to injury in the Ulster final. Thankfully, the most of the injuries have cleared up now and with the exception of Paddy McGrath and David Walsh we have everybody else available to us for Sunday.
“Paddy and David are a few weeks off being back in the frame. They are back training away on their own and working with the physios. But all going well they should be back in a couple of weeks.
“The boys are all in good form and really looking forward to the game. It is in O’Donnell Park, a good tight pitch and a big crowd expected. The one thing for sure is that we will know where we are at on Sunday evening.”
The fact that Monaghan denied Donegal a historic three-in-row Ulster titles last summer is bound to be a motivating factor for the Donegal players.
However, McGuinness played down revenge as the main motivating factor. “We are going well. The form is good. But we will be treating it just like every other game in the league - they are all big - a game we are going out to win as we do in all the other games.
“The aim from day one is to win all the games in the league and be pushing for promotion at the end of the campaign.”
Donegal go into the game on the back of two impressive performances against Laois and Galway. They had 13 points to spare at the finish against Laois, in a game that marked the return for a first competitive start in close on two years of Christy Toye. And the St Michael’s man capped his return with a man of the match performance on a day Colm McFadden and Odhran MacNiallais scored the goals and team captain Michael Murphy chipped in with six points.
Donegal followed up that 2-19 to 1-9 victory in O’Moore Park with a seven point winning margin over the Tribesmen in Salthill. Donegal won that game 1-16 to 0-12 with McFadden once again finding the net as his club colleague Martin McElhinney turned in a man of the match performance at midfield.
Donegal are boosted for Sunday’s game with the return of regular defender Eamon McGee. McGee sat out the first two games due to a suspension carried over from last summer.
The Gaoth Dobhair man played for Ulster in the last two weekends and is back in the frame for Sunday.
However, the starting line up, which is not due to be announced until this morning (Thursday) is not expected to alter greatly from the team that started last time out.