Donegal and Roscommon will once again clash the ash this weekend when they go head in the Nicky Rackard Cup All-Ireland Championship.
The game, a repeat of last year’s final, is a premlimnary round tie and is a home game for Roscommon in Athleague on Saturday, throw-in 2.30 pm.
Donegal and Roscommon are no strangers and there is very little either Donegal manager, Ray Durack, or his opposite number Roscommon boss, Justin Campbell, can pull out of the hat when it comes to tactics.
Durack, a native of Portumna in Galway and Campbell, who is from Kiltormer in Galway, are former clubmates. They played club hurling together with St Garbriel’s, in London, in the 1980s.
The Donegal boss is also well acquainted with the Roscommon coach and former Offaly All-Ireland winne,r Joachim Kelly. Kelly was one of Ray Durack’s coaches during his underage playing days with Portuma.
The counties have locked horns four times alone inside the last twelve months - twice in the Nicky Rackard Cup and twice in Division 3A of the League. And the record with three wins to one is very much in favour of the men from the north west.
They began their triumphant march to last June’s Nicky Rackard Cup, All-Ireland success with a three point win over the Shannonsiders, in Athleague. And they completed their history making Nicky Rackard triumph with a four points final victory,o n Croke Park’s hallowed sod a number of weeks later in the Nicky Rackard final.
They have also met twice this season, both occasions in the league, and the record stands at honours even with one win each. Roscommon exacted a measure of revenge when the teams met in the league at the beginning of March.
But Donegal once again prevailed when the two sides met in the Division 3A League final at the beginning of this month.
“We are pretty familiar with each other alright. We have met a good few times in recent years and the last year alone we have met four times and thankfully we have come out on the right side in three of those games,” said Durack.
“They have been all tight games with only a few points between us. I think the biggest margin was five points. That was the game we lost earlier this year, in the league, in Athleague.”
The most recent clash was the Division 3A League final in Sligo, a game Donegal won by four points, 4-12 to 2-14, after having led by 15 points in the early minutes of the second period when Enda McDermott drove home goal number four.
But 14-man Roscommon (they lost midfielder John Moran to a straight red card a few minutes before half-time) made a brave bid for it in the closing 20 minutes. The Shannonsiders cut the Donegal lead to two points before Lee Henderson closed out the game with two late points.
Roscommon were without their leading marksman Gary Fallon, who posted 2-9 against Donegal in last year’s Nicky Rackard final. The midfielder missed the game through suspension. Fallon is expected back for Saturday’s showdown.
For Donegal, Saturday’s game marks the beginning of their defence of the Nicky Rackard title they won last summer for the very first time.
“The first goal at the start of the season was to win the League and promotion and now that we have achieved that our thoughts have turned to the Nicky Rackard.
“We were disappointed that, as was the case in previous years, the Nicky Rackard winners moved up to the Christy Ring the following year. But that did not happen and now the goal is to go out and win it once again.”
The winners of Saturday’s game advance to the next round of the competition while all is not lost for the losers either. The team that comes out on the wrong side of the result goes into the Qualifiers.
Donegal, after a week off, returned to training on Saturday morning and trained again on Tuesday night.
With the exception of the suspended Jamsie Donnelly, the Donegal boss has reported a fully fit squad for the trip to Athleague.
Donnelly received a straight red card against Fingal in the promotion play-off. The team is expected to be along the lines of the one that started the league final.
The Donegal squad: P Burns; M McGrath, J McGee, C McDermott, J Boyle, P Sheridan, R McDermott, D Cullen, L Henderson, E McDermott, S McVeigh; K Campbell, P Hannigan, C Mathewson, D Laverty, M McGee, E Organ, B Tourish, J Browne, C Flood, M Bonnar, C Kilgannon, S Sheerin, S Gallen, J Downey.