Rory Kavanagh missed Donegal’s opening round victory over Derry through suspension following his red card against Monaghan.
The midfielder, one of Donegal’s most consistent performers over the last few seasons, admitted that it was not a pleasant experience to have to watch from the sideline.
He would much prefer to have his sleeves rolled up and be in the thick of the action.
“It was hard looking on the last day against Derry. But in fairness to the boys they went out and did the job. They had that purple patch at the start of the second half and did really well to get over the line,” said Rory.
“It was a good performance and a big victory. Derry had been going very well and had a good league campaign beforehand; we all saw it as a big challenge.
“But the boys came through it with flying colours and the win has been a huge boost to morale and confidence in the squad.
“Any game you win in Ulster is good for morale and confidence and especially against a good Derry side and one that had been one of the form teams in the country; a team many were tipping as real contenders for Ulster.”
Rory, who has played 45 championship games for Donegal and well over 100 between league championship and Dr McKenna Cup, hopes that confidence is enough to see them overcome the Saffrons on Sunday.
“Hopefully, the confidence from winning in Celtic Park, and the manner of the win can build up a head of steam for the Antrim game.
“Training has been going really well in recent weeks. Morale in the squad is good, all the injuries seem to have cleared up and the competition for places in the team is high.
“We have a couple of people vying for every position which is good and it looks as if the manager is going to have selection headache before he finalises the team.”
And the silken skilled St Eunan’s man admitted that nowhere is the competition more keen than midfield where he is vying with Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney and after the Derry game, Christy Toye and Odhran MacNiallais, for one of the two positions.
“The competition at midfield is pretty keen alright which is a good thing and very positive going forward. From my perspective after the last day I will be doing well to get my place back.
“Odhran MacNiallais and Christy Toye did well in the first half the last day against Derry. Martin McElhinney and Neil Gallagher came on in the second half and put in big shifts so they are also fighting for their places too.
“There is definitely strength in depth for midfield so it is a matter for everyone to get the heads down in training and push hard and hope to make the team.”
Rory was troubled by injury early in the season and was also struggling with injury (abductor) ahead of the Derry game.
However, all those injuries have cleared up and as he says himself thanks to the good work of the team medics and physios he is flying fit again. And hopefully looking forward to a good long championship summer.
While there could be an attitude of sure ‘it is only Antrim’ it is certainly not the case with Rory Kavanagh. He has been around the Donegal team too long to get sucked in by any notion that Antrim, who finished third from the bottom of this season’s Division Four league table, are a soft touch.
He has been there and has already experienced the loneliness of the losers’ dressing room after losing to Antrim in the championship. And he doesn’t have to go back all that far back either to remember when the Saffrons came to Ballybofey and caused one of the biggest upsets seen in Ulster for many a year.
That was in 2009, and Antrim, who were managed back then, too, by their current boss Liam ‘Baker’Bradley, defeated John Joe Doherty’s Donegal, 1-10 to 0-9. Derryman Bradley is back and in his second stint as Antrim boss.
“Sometimes teams are at their most dangerous when they are written off. They came to Ballybofey a few years ago and turned us over so we have to be aware that on a day they are capable of turning us over.
“We have to make sure we are ready both mentally and physically for Antrim and ready for anything they might throw at us.”
The prize is a place in the Ulster final and in the case of this Donegal team, a fourth Ulster final in-a-row.
“It is a huge prize. If you were to talk to any of the boys that is what they would say that playing in Ulster is a huge game. It is what we want to do and that was the target from the moment we set out at the start of the year. Hopefully, we can achieve it.”
As for a third Ulster title and a serious assault on a second All-Ireland crown, Rory is a little cautious.
“We are going to take it one game at a time. That is how it always has been and nothing has changed on that front.
“We were being written off after our league final defeat to Monaghan in Croke Park. There weren’t many people tipping us to beat Derry and now after beating Derry, people are saying Donegal are back and talking about Ulster championship and All-Ireland titles.
“But that is something we never talk about. Our focus is on Antrim and building on the Derry performance and hopefully that is good enough to beat Antrim. And if we do that we can then turn our attention on the Ulster final and build on the win over Antrim.
“First we have to get over Antrim which is our next game and the only one that matters.”