The bookies have Donegal odds on once against as they face Derry in the Ulster Championship semi-final on Saturday in Clones (7.00 p.m.)
Donegal are anything from 2/9 to 1/5 while you can get Derry from 7/2 to 5/1. Donegal are even shorter odds than they were for the visit to Armagh two weeks ago.
It is a measure of Donegal’s dominance in Armagh that the bookies are taking no chances. From the outside you have to have confidence travelling to St. Tiernach’s Park. The clinical nature of Donegal’s demolition of Armagh has got people inside and outside the county talking.
Donegal and Derry have plenty of recent history, meeting for the fifth time since 2008. Donegal certainly have the upper hand, winning the last four meetings, including the Ulster final of 2011.
The most recent championship clash was in Celtic Park in the quarter-final last year when Donegal blitzed Derry at the start of the second half. Derry had led 0-6 to 0-4 at the break but a goal from Leo McLoone and a delightful sideline from Michael Murphy had Donegal ahead by 1-9 to 0-6 within 12 minutes of the restart.
Derry did come back with the margin at the end only three points, 1-11 to 0-11.
That was the first game of 2014 for both teams, but Saturday’s semi-final comes with Donegal having two tough games under their belt while Derry struggled to a one point (0-12 to 0-11) victory over Down. Derry showed a heavy reliance on two players - Eoin Bradley and captain Mark Lynch, who hit 0-5 each. Lynch also had a big number of shots off target.
Bradley has been plying his talent with Glenavon in the Irish League throughout the winter but manager Brian McIver had been using him when available. It is a measure of the dearth of forward talent in the Oak Leaf county that McIver has accommodated the dual star. Bradley repaid his manager with a good display against Down, including creating the winning score. On Saturday, Bradley will probably have Neil McGee for company and he is unlikely to have the same freedom he had against Down.
As for Mark Lynch, Karl Lacey is normally his shadow which should make it a difficult evening for the Banagher man. Derry normally get a good performance from Enda Lynn and Benny Heron caused some problems for Donegal when he came in from the bench last year.
Where Donegal could encounter some problems is at midfield. Last year in Celtic Park, Derry lost Fergal Doherty to injury very early, which didn’t help their cause. Then again Donegal were without the suspended Rory Kavanagh and the injured Neil Gallagher, who only made an appearance as a substitute.
Any preview of the game has to take into account the firepower which Donegal now have in their armoury. We will have to wait and see what role captain Michael Murphy is given, but he is likely to have spells at full-forward and around midfield as a creator.
Colm McFadden will likely come back into the side if fully fit and Patrick McBrearty will surely be given licence to kill inside and he showed against Armagh that if given a reasonable supply, he can be a match winner.
Apart from the possible return of McFadden, Donegal are likely to be unchanged from their win over Armagh, which would mean that 14 of the starting Donegal side played some part in last year’s win in Celtic Park. Mark McHugh might be the only starting player who did not play last year. Derry will have up to 12 of last year’s players likely to start on Saturday.
Brian McIver is in third year in charge of Derry and he has come in for very strong criticism from former Derry star, Paddy Bradley, in the last week. In a controversial outburst Bradley said that McIver would be taught a lesson by Donegal in Clones and also added that he felt he could still do a job for his county.
It was an amazing outburst by the 34-year old brother of current Derry full-forward Eoin.
Derry have also lost James Kielt, who left the panel after the Down game. But one wonders what effect these matters will have on the Derry challenge on Saturday.
Donegal need to be wary and will need to be ready for the battle from the off. To be fair to them, that has been the case against Tyrone and Armagh and if they can replicate that, especially in the opening half, it is hard to see Derry being able to muster the challenge necessary to stop them reaching their fifth Ulster final in-a-row.