With the race for the Sam Maguire Cup over the chase for the Donegal Senior Championship crown begins this weekend.
The championship, which had been postponed until after the All-Ireland final throws in this weekend, with four first round games on Saturday and four more on Sunday.
In all 16 teams go to the line this weekend and in the opinion of former Killybegs and Donegal Vocational Schools’ manager, John Joe O’Shea, it is a seven horse race.
“A lot will depend on how quickly the county men recover from Sunday’s All-Ireland disappointment. But looking at the groups and the way the fixtures are panning out I feel the winners will come from Kilcar, Glenswilly, Naomh Conaill, Four Masters, Ardara, Gaoth Dobhair or St Eunan’s,” said John Joe.
“Some people will wonder why St Michael’s are not among my potential winners but they are in the group of death with Kilcar and Glenswilly and they have to go to both Towney and Glenswilly.
“But if there is a team to come from outside my group of seven, it will be St Michael’s. With Christy Toye, Colm McFadden and Martin McElhinney they have a strong backbone and on their day are capable of beating either Kilcar or Glenswilly. I just feel the fact they are away to both is against them.
“Kilcar are the form team in the county at the minute and the fact that Rory Gallagher has more time to devote to them this year.
“When you look around for the team, despite Ryan McHugh and Patrick McBrearty’s involvement with Donegal and all the All-Ireland hype of recent weeks and the disappointment of losing, they will be the club least effected.
“The boys are totally dedicated to the club too and have been attending as many training club training sessions as possible, in recent weeks. They tick that box too in a big way.”
The first round games coming six and seven days after the All-Ireland final is far from ideal and is a cause of concern for a number of club managers this week.
But in John Joe O’Shea’s opinion given the new format of four groups of four teams with each team having three games, this shouldn’t be an issue.
“Those clubs with county men have three games and it is not a life or death situation and if a team say lose the first game, they have two more games to recover.”
The other one big lesson learned from last season by a number of clubs was that score average decided where teams in the group stages ended level on points.
Where that situation arose the team with the best score average over their three games qualified for the quarter-finals.
“Four Masters and Naomh Conaill were the big losers on score average last year and I’m sure it is something that Emlyn Hughes (Four Masters) and Paddy Campbell (Naomh Conaill) will be impressing on their players this week.
The groups are as follows: Group A - St Eunan’s, Naomh Conaill, Malin and Naomh Muire; Group B - Ardara, Four Masters, MacCumhaill’s and Glenfin; Group C - Gaoth Dobhair, Dungloe, Killybegs and Termon; Group D - Glenswilly, Kilcar, St Michael’s and Bundoran.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the quarter-finals. And in a change this season from last the group qualifiers cannot be drawn against each other in the quarter-final.
“Naomh Conaill have both St Eunan’s and Malin at home this season, two of the challengers for one of the two promotion spots.
“I accept they have a tricky away assignment to Naomh Muire this weekend, but I feel they will not be caught this year and they will be one of the qualifiers. Who will join them is the big question? While St Eunan’s are away to both Naomh Conaill and Malin, I still feel that Maxi Curran has the strength in depth to be the other team to qualify from the group.
Verdict: Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s.
“Ardara, by their own high standards last year, went very close to beating Glenswilly in the quarter-final.
“They are showing much better form this season and I fancy them to make the quarter-final.
“Four Masters lost out last year on score average. They have shown decent form this season and I expect them to also make the last eight.
“Sean MacCumhaill’s, who are having a mixed season, are capable of busting the Ardara and Four Masters ticket.
“They have a big first round game away to neighbours and arch rivals Glenfin on Saturday evening and if Brendan Dunleavy can mastermind a win in Pairc Taobhoige, they will definitely will be in the mix.”
Verdict: Ardara and Four Masters
“Gaoth Dobhair with the McGees, Neil and Eamon and Odhran MacNiallais, Kevin Cassidy and number of the county minor on board have to be fancied to take one of the two qualifying spots.
“The battle for the second spot is more interesting. Dungloe are after having a good run in Division Two and won the Division and promotion.
“They are the form team but Killybegs and Termon cannot be taken lightly. Both have had poor leagues but Killybegs have a good championship pedigree and Termon are more than capable as we saw last year with their win against Gaoth Dobhair, in Magheragallon.
“The form guide points to Dungloe and I feel they will join Gaoth Dobhair in the quarter-final draw.”
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair and Dungloe
“This group is a three horse race between Kilcar, Glenswilly and St Michael’s with St Michael’s the outsiders.
“Both Glenswilly and Kilcar, the form team in the county at the minute, have two home games which puts them in pole position. It will be a tall order for St Michael’s, who have to go to Kilcar and Glenswilly, to make the quarter-finals. One thing’s for sure they will be definitely championship contenders if they do.
“This weekend’s game between Glenswilly and Kilcar is a big game and the outcome of it will be a good guide to form and how this group might pan out. It is especially a pressure game for Glenswilly who are at home.
“The outcome of this one may very well come down to how Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher and Ryan McHugh and Patrick McBrearty recover from last Sunday’s All-Ireland disappointment.
“Regardless of how this game goes with the change to the format where two teams from the same group cannot meet in the quarter-final, if these sides can avoid each other in the semi-final I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were to meet again in the final.”
Verdict: Kilcar and Glenswilly.