Donegal are in good shape and ready to rock when they put their Ulster crown on the line against Tyrone on Saturday evening in their eagerly awaited Ulster championship semi-final.
And for the first time this year Donegal, who have already defeated Cavan and Derry on their way to Saturday evening’s showdown, have a clean bill of health. Jim McGuinness has a fully fit squad to select from when he sits down with Rory Gallagher tonight to finalise his starting team and squad for the repeat of last year’s last four meeting.
Rory Kavanagh, who missed the quarter-final victory over Derry with an ankle injury, has resumed training and is fit again. Christy Toye, who was long term injured, is further down the road in his recovery and is close to full fitness again and is in the frame to see action on Saturday evening. And of course team captain, Michael Murphy has another two weeks training done after making a dramatic comeback against Derry.
“Rory is improving well and has trained well in the last two weeks and we will see how he goes this week. Overall we are in good shape and for the first time this season we have a fully fit squad,” McGuinness told the Democrat.
“It is well known that we had a number of injuries earlier in the year and we had issues with the Colleges. But all that is behind us now and we have everybody and they are all fit and well. Christy Toye, between county training and club games, has up to 12 sessions under his belt in the last few weeks and is getting into shape. All in all we have a clean bill of health going into the game on Saturday evening, because we are going to need them all.”
For Donegal and Jim McGuinness it is now a matter of picking it up where they left off against Derry two weeks ago and being ready for the challenge of the O’Neill Co, who will be out to avenge last years three point defeat, also at the semi-final stage and also in Clones.
“Tyrone are a big challenge. Without being disrespectful to either Cavan or Derry, they (Tyrone) are the benchmark in Ulster and they are a team we would have looked up to in the last few years and aspired to be as good as and we got over the line against them last year.
“They feel that they let us off the hook last year and some of their players have said that publicly that they did not implement their own game plan and they allowed us get a foothold in the game.
“As a consequence of that they will go into the game feeling they have the measure of us and we are going to have to be ready for that and stick to our own game plan and implement what we have been working on in training week in week out.
“We would be very disappointed with the start we gave Tyrone last year and really the game could have been over but for a block from Anthony Thompson on the goal line, the game was gone from us. So that is going to be an important aspect of the game for us and I suppose and it is going to take all our resolve and experience from last year to get over the line against Tyrone because obviously their pedigree in Ulster and on the National stage is second to none.
“The boys have worked very hard over the last two weeks and I would like to think they are well prepared and it is a matter now of going out and taking the game to Tyrone early in the match and being positive.
“I feel if we do that we will be competitive and if you are competitive you always have a chance and really that is the approach we have always taken in all games to date and it is going to be no different on Saturday evening.”
Donegal go into the game as reigning champions and also as firm favourites with bookies, pundits and the vast majority of those that have an opinion on the game. But that does not bother the Donegal boss nor does it faze him either because as far as he is concerned it is not an issue.
“We went into the last two games as favourites and it did not bother us and if you look at last year Tyrone went into the game as favourites and we won the game so it does not mean that much really who is favourites. The same set of rules apply for this game that apply for any other game.
We know we have a job to do; we know the challenge that lies ahead of us and if don’t do our job collectively we are not going to perform and if we don’t perform we are not going to be competitive and if we are not competitive we won’t win the match and that is a guarantee.
“All those things are linked and for us we need to get our own performance ready and fine tuned this week and then put faith in the boys and hopefully they will go out and deliver on Saturday evening.
“We are realistic enough to know that every game has to be dealt with on an individual basis and that is where our focus lies. When people were criticising us last year we did not take much notice and we just went on and did our own thing and if people are saying other things this year it is the exact same situation.
“The reality is that what goes on in the confines of the dressing room or at training dictates how successful or not we are as a team. The focus within the camp and the way they train will dictate whether we perform or not and that is where it is at with us and that is what it is all about and if we can replicate the good work we have done in the two games up to this and bring it forward another level, which I feel we have to, to win the game, then it will put us in a good situation to go and win the match. And if we don’t do that we won’t win the match.
“It is going to take a massive effort and we are under no illusion about that. Tyrone have the pedigree; they have the silverware to back that up. We are pretty much novices in terms of winning things, we have the Ulster title from last year, but that is pretty much it.
“This game gives us an opportunity to get back to an Ulster final, something that I personally and the players hold in very high regard and the competition is at the semi-final stage and we are 70 minutes away from a final and I think it would be a great achievement to get there.
“But it is going to be a huge test and a huge challenge for us and I know Tyrone will be throwing everything at us. We are going to have to do the same to them and take the game to them as much as possible and hope we get over the line again at the final whistle.”
Jim McGuinness will finalise his team on Thursday night and the team will be announced on Friday.