For Derry defender Dermot McBride, Sunday represents the chance to get Derry back in contention at Ulster championship level.
McBride has been a stalwart for the Oak Leaf men this year and could get one of the plum roles in marking Colm McFadden.
He knows that the Donegal system is different to other counties.
“I suppose it is. They are quite defensive. Times you don’t know what they’re going to do. Through the league they’ve played a bit defensive on it. But at the minute we’re looking at ourselves. We’re trying to get our own system right, our own gameplan right, and perfect a couple of wee things.
“We’re moreso looking at ourselves than at Donegal. Yes it’s championship football, yes these guys have won Ulster titles, All-Ireland titles, and they’ll bring intensity to it. We just have to make sure we’re prepared for that, and we’re going the right way about it.
The Derry defender is anxious to keep any plans they have for Donegal udner cover, especially in relation to playing an extra man.
“Well, we’ll see what way the lads are going to work it. That’s our own system and we’ll keep that under wraps.”
After suffering a heavy defeat to Dublin, McBride says that is behind them:
“The Dublin game was disappointing and it took us a few days to get over it. But we’ve sat down as a group and watched the majority of it. We didn’t play.
“Yes, Dublin were very good on the day, they ran through us, but we didn’t put any pressure on. We were giving the ball away, doing things we hadn’t been doing all year. It was disappointing for us to get that far, to get to a national final and not put in a good account of ourselves. It’s maybe good that it’s happened before championship. You’d rather it happened there than in a championship game. We just have to learn from it,” said McBride, who is happy that he has had a long injury-free run.
“I was going good up until a couple of years ago and that hamstring injury. That was really the crux of it. This year I’ve only missed a couple of club games. I had a couple of wee niggly injuries towards the end of the league but touch wood, we’re going alright.”
The Derry man says he has had got great help from his club and county management:
“Ballinascreen, our management team have been great. They would tell me not to risk anything, to come off if I’m not feeling right. They were very easy to deal with. Those lads are spot on, they’re looking after your welfare and they know how big this Donegal game is to us.”
Looking forward to Sunday and the prospect of marking Colm McFadden, McBride is again elusive.
“I honestly don’t know. We’re looking at a few things but there’s nothing confirmed. I just have to make sure, first of all, that I’m in that starting team.
“It’s a young squad and there’s boys champing at the bit. There’s 35 men on the panel and there’s men that are bouncing for it. We changed the whole team around against Mayo and those boys came in and showed what they’re worth.
“The panel we have is the strongest that I remember. I have to get myself in the team before I can think of match-ups.”
McBride is one of the more experienced players on the squad (he’ll be 26 on June 26): “People are saying that, but I’d say I’m still a cub at 25.
“I suppose I’ve been about a wee while. A while longer than some of the rest of them. With experience, you can pass that on to the younger lads. Naturally, you become experienced from playing championship matches, and you’re able to pass that on. You can try and let them know what they’re in for.
“But we’re all basically leaders when we come to the pitch, the lads know what to expect themselves. The management, everyone else, has gone through it. We’ve talked about things and what to expect come championship day. Them boys, and myself, are going to be more than prepared for it.”
Asked if he is surprised at Derry’s improvement this year, he says: “Not really. You see it in training, at the matches, and in training games, the quality that we have. There’s nothing there to fear. We did set out at the start of the season to consolidate our position in Division One.
“Once we achieved that, we tried to push on. I think it’s the strongest squad we’ve had in a few years. It doesn’t surprise me looking around it, looking around at training, but that was the league. Championship’s a different thing altogether. That’s what you’re going to be marked on at the end of the year.”
Derry’s recent record in the championship is something that McBride agrees leaves room for improvement.
“We’ve done well in the league, but championship is, I know, you know, everybody knows, where you’re going to be marked at the end of the year. They’re not going to think about the league. Yes, we’re happy with our league and our preparation. We got to the final and all that craic.
“But the first round of the championship, that’s what we’ve been training towards and that’s what it’s going to come down to,” said McBride, who didn’t play in the first round against Down lastyear or against Donegal the previous year.
His last Ulster championship game was against Donegal in the Ulster final of 2011.
“That’s wile. That’s frustrating. The Ulster championship is where you want to be playing games. Hopefully I’ll be starting on Sunday.”