The Donegal bandwagon rolls into Croke Park for the first time this summer on Saturday evening when they take on Armagh in the quarter-final (4 p.m.)
Since their Ulster final win, Donegal have been quietly preparing for this date but it was only on Saturday last that they learned who their opposition would be.
Under Jim McGuinness, Donegal have reached this stage in each of his four years in charge and there is quiet expectation that he can lead them to a third semi-final in four years.
For many of this Donegal panel, the sight of an Armagh jersey would not be a pretty one after suffering defeat after defeat at their hands on championships days throughout the last 12 years.
Christy Toye is among those with the most hurt. The genial St. Michael’s man would probably have been in Croke Park a few weeks ago going on the information given with his profile as a 16-year-old in the Donegal GAA Yearbook of 1999. In that profile Christy listed Garth Brooks as his favourite singer!
He is probably happier to have an August date at Croker and this gig is definitely going ahead!
Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness has been impressed by Armagh: “We were knocked out at this stage last year and it was the most difficult day for all of us over the last four years.
“It’s a big challenge but it’s one we are very much looking forward to,” said McGuinness yesterday.
“The thing about Armagh is that they have built really well as the Championship has gone on. After the final whistle on Saturday you could see there was great togetherness in the camp and obviously great momentum on the back of the run that they are on. Paul (Grimley) and Kieran (McGeeney) have done a very good job with them, an excellent job with them.
“I was at the matches at the weekend and to score 18 points in those conditions was very, very big kicking. This will be our third encounter this year-and all were very competitive and close games.
“Our squad is healthy, we have no injuries; we played over the weekend and everybody is good to go. That gives us a problem we did not have last year.
“We will sit down and try and pick a team in the next few days and try and put our best foot forward to win the match.
“The two games we have played them already this year have been tight and physical and competitive but they have not been overly attritional. Croke Park’s a bigger field than the Athletic Grounds and that might open up the game.
“I would expect it to be tough and I’d expect both teams to give it everything, but I think it has the makings of a good game of football as well”.
Armagh put a total ban on press activities since their controversial first round game with Cavan in the Athletic Grounds when the pre-match parade bust-up captured the headlines.
There was almost a token easing of the Armagh omertà yesterday when they called a press conference in the Carrickdale Hotel ahead of Sunday’s game but then yesterday morning the briefing was ‘postponed’.
Donegal, for their part, have traditionally kept their heads down for All-Ireland quarter-finals although the players and management have been available for comment up until that.
As far as can be ascertained Jim McGuinness will select from a full deck for the game, while Armagh will be without a number of first choice players such as captain Ciaran McKeever and Ethan Rafferty while Kieran Toner is not ready for 70 minutes of action.
Nobody is expecting it to be pretty on Saturday night but after the pain inflicted by Armagh over the past 15 years, a win of any kind will be acceptable to Donegal supporters.
(See Pages 84/85 to see the full extent of that Armagh pain!)