The wait is over. We need to cast our minds back to that Sunday last August when Donegal suffered their heaviest defeat in senior football since 1946 when Cavan won by 20 points.
Donegal will take to the field this Sunday 25th May in Celtic Park, Derry with the intention of easing the hurt and redeeming themselves after this humbling defeat. There has been much soul searching since then. Donegal has not dwelled on that game but lessons have been learned.
In Croke Park that August Sunday afternoon, Donegal were a shadow of the team that won the All-Ireland title 12 months previously.
On the day, it will be about beating Derry and progressing into the semi-final of the Ulster Championship. The lads do not need reminding of the Mayo defeat because the pain of losing that game is still there and will serve to give Donegal that extra motivation for winning on Sunday.
The pundits are dismissive of Donegal’s chances against Derry which helps our cause. The pressure is on Derry to prove themselves since they have home advantage and have played their football this season in Division 1 of the National League. Also Donegal’s inadequate performance against Monaghan in the Division 2 final has given our pundits enough reason to believe that Donegal will struggle against the Division 1 League finalists.
I have many reasons why I believe that Donegal will defeat Derry. Simply put, we have better players, we have more experience and most of all we are proven winners. Donegal lost to Monaghan in their league final recently. Derry also lost their league final and their overall performance did not exactly set the world alight.
Down went to Omagh last Sunday and should have beaten Tyrone who was outright favourites. The former played out of Division 1 while the latter played out of Division 2.
Colm O’Rourke stated on RTE before the game that Down was the “worst” team he “saw” in Division 2 this season. So can we put much credence to what these pundits say and speculate about teams?
Derry played out of Division1 while we played out of Division 2. Does that mean we are a poor team or indeed a poorer team than Derry? I don’t think so. Believe me; Derry would rather play any other team than Donegal in the first round of the Ulster championship.
We don’t have an axe to grind with Derry, they just happen to be our opponents next Sunday. I believe that they have a decent team and did well to reach the final of the National League. They also had a good run in the qualifiers of the Championship last year.
Donegal have taken a hammering from many quarters in respect of their performance in the National League final against Monaghan. This too will provide armoury for Donegal. Also, I would have no fear tactically in respect of Donegal. We saw how Tyrone fell apart when their ‘keeper Morgan was sent off. His replacement had a tough time when he took his place between the sticks. He conceded two goals but most importantly his kick-outs were all over the shop. In effect he conceded much advantage to Down. As a result his full-back line lost confidence in him and they too started to make mistakes.
It is well known that Donegal had a training camp in Portugal in April. I expect the fruits of this gruelling exercise will come to the fore now. It has been a long wait for everyone concerned with Donegal football not least the players. The championship brings out the best in a player. It is the competition that he works towards in training session. Irrespective of the importance that the media or a team manager will put on a league campaign, it will never come close to the drama, excitement and passion of the championship.
Few remember league winners. The championship evokes pride in the county jersey. The game takes on a completely different meaning for the player. Even the roar of the crowd is different. The intensity in every respect increases. With the increase in air temperature the ball moves quicker, with the hardening of the surface the ball bounces higher and with the increase in stakes the collective desire to win reaches higher levels.
I believe that we have the character and resolve to turn recent mediocrity into summer success starting in Celtic Park this Sunday.
Derry and Donegal will both have their sights set on bigger days. I believe that Sunday’s game will be much more intense than the Tyrone-Down game and will provide many spills and thrills. Donegal will be installed as outsiders. That suits us fine. Let’s hope that by 4pm on Sunday that Donegal will be in the Ulster semi-final.
Keep the faith!