Donegal have to make their experience tell when they take the field on Sunday against Tyrone in MacCumhaill Park (4.00 p.m.)
The game is the flagship game of the opening weekend of the Championship season. The spotlight for RTE and for the entire national media will be on Ballybofey, which makes it even more difficult for all involved.
It will be a first championship game under the management of Rory Gallagher, but he has the most experienced ever group of players taking the field with Donegal jerseys.
Donegal have won three of the last four Ulster Championships and contested the other final. You have to go back to the 1989-1993 era to have any comparison with other Donegal teams. However, there the comparison ends as the present group have three Ulster titles, a fantastic 75% success rate while the ‘89-’93 team only managed two Ulster titles.
Seven Donegal have played in all 24 championship games in the last four years - Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Anthony Thompson, Martin McElhinney, Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty.
Michael Murphy and Frank McGlynn have missed just one game and Karl Lacey two.
Rory Gallagher has selection posers but the spine of his team will change little - Paul Durcan, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy will give the stability and then with the added experience of Eamon McGee, Frank McGlynn, Colm McFadden, Paddy McGrath, Patrick McBrearty, Christy Toye, Anthony Thompson, David Walsh and Martin McElhinney, you have a vastly experienced group.
Last year we had the arrival of Ryan McHugh, Odhran MacNiallais and Darach O’Connor, and Mark McHugh, if fit, is back and available this year.
All those players are in the mix along with Hugh McFadden, Eamon Doherty, Daniel McLaughlin, Eoin McHugh, Martin O’Reilly, Gary McFadden and Stephen Griffin, who have been pushing for a place this year. You also have Michael Boyle in reserve, someone who has shown that he is a very able deputy for Paul Durcan.
In most years there is always room for someone outside the pale to make an impression. Darach O’Connor was a surprise inclusion last year. Will there be a springer this year? Could it be Eoin McHugh?
That’s what makes the championship so special. There are always surprises and that’s what also makes it different. Tyrone will look to frustrate Donegal, and pick off scores. But that experience that Donegal have stored up as well as the form shown recently by the likes of Karl Lacey could be the difference.
The losers on Sunday will compete in the Qualifiers beginning on weekend of 20/21 June.
The winners will face Armagh a week earlier on Sunday, June 14 in the last of the Ulster quarter-finals.
With their bank of experience, it has to be Donegal to go through the front door and that meeting with Armagh.