It’s Donegal and Tyrone, take one in 2013, this Sunday, when they go head to head in round three of the Allianz Football League’s Division One in Healy Park. (Throw in 2 pm)
Sunday’s game is the first of two meetings this year with the other on May 26th, in the first round of the Ulster Senior Football Championship; a date already being heralded by Donegal manager Jim McGuinness as D-Day for the All-Ireland champions in the defence of their All-Ireland crown.
Yet, despite this, and with only a little over 11 weeks to that end of May showdown, the Donegal boss insists that the closeness of that meeting will not colour his thinking and his approach to this weekend’s encounter.
“Just because it is Tyrone will not alter or influence our approach to the game. As far as we are concerned it is another league game and our focus remains the same as it is for the rest of the games in the league,” insisted the Donegal boss.
“We remain focussed on what we want to get out of the league and that is to try out a few new players and we hope to try a few new lads again this weekend and to build towards the championship.
“Really that is what the league is about for us. That is what it was last year and this year is no different. The most important thing is that we are primed and ready to go when the championship comes around.”
While the sides have locked horns twice in the championship in the last two seasons with Donegal winning both, Sunday’s clash in Omagh is only the second League meeting between them since Jim McGuinness took over from John Joe Doherty at the end of 2010.
That other meeting was in Division Two in the Glenties man’s second league game calling the shots, in February 2011.
Donegal bagged the two points in Omagh on that occasion on a 1-10 to 1-6 scoreline. A Dermot’Brick’ Molloy goal early in the second half paved the way for a much easier than anticipated Donegal victory, who lined out without Kevin Cassidy and Rory Kavanagh.
Donegal have twice confirmed their superiority over the O’Neill County men in the last two Ulster championship campaigns, and both at the semi-final stage. The most recent of those was last summer’s 0-12 to 0-10 win in one of the most intriguing and gripping encounters from a tactical view point ever between the two counties.
Indeed but for a late foot save from Paul Durcan - who makes his 100th appearance on Sunday - from Martin Penrose it could have been a different outcome at the end of a game Donegal bossed for much of the second period.
Donegal lost Neil McGee minutes into last July’s encounter with a hamstring injury and, ironically, the Gaoth Dobhair man is one of Donegal’s biggest injury concerns going into Sunday’s showdown.
McGee missed Ulster’s Inter-Provincial final victory with the recurrence of an old back injury.
“Neil suffered a back spasm at the weekend. It comes on him now and again and we are going to have to wait and see how he goes this week. But at this stage he is a concern and we are just going to have to wait and see,” admitted McGuinness.
Frank McGlynn, who missed Donegal’s last game against Down with a hamstring injury suffered in the first half of the opening game of the league against Kildare, has resumed training and is looking good for a return this weekend.
Paddy McGrath, who missed the opening two games against Kildare and Down, has also returned to training and is in the frame for Sunday’s joust with the O’Neill County.
“The injuries are starting to clear up and with the exception of Karl Lacey and Christy Toye, both of whom are long term, all the rest of the lads that were carrying knocks are all back in training.
“Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and David Walsh are all back training and while this weekend’s game may be a week or two too soon for David, I’m hopeful that both Frank and Paddy will be fit to play, if not from the start, they will be able to play some part.
“Neil Gallagher is also back and going well in training again too, as is Mark McHugh, who is in much better shape than I expected given that he only returned to full training in recent weeks.”
Marty O’Reilly, who is returning from a bout of glandular fever at the end of last year, is also back in training and playing with the U-21s in challenge games and is slowly recovering to full fitness.
It is also learned that Stephen Griffin has left the Donegal panel.
Meanwhile, the Donegal boss also confirmed that Karl Lacey’s rehabilation from hip surgery at the end of last year is going well and that he expects the Footballer of the Year to be back jogging shortly, with a view to a return to full training in five to six weeks.
Donegal go into Sunday’s game with one win and one defeat while Tyrone have full points from their two games to date with a three point (1-11 to 1-8) win over Down in Newry, on opening night.
And a late Stephen O’Neill penalty saw them come from behind to snatch a dramatic one point win over Mayo in Castlebar, in their last game.
Donegal lost 2-14 to 1-13,to Kildare, in their opening game of the campaign,in Croke Park, before easing past Down 0-12 to 0-7 last time, over two weeks ago in MacCumhaill Park.
“We are happy enough with the league so far and the break has been good for us. It has given the boys that were carrying knocks an opportunity to get over the injuries and it also gave us an opportunity to work on a few things and build on our fitness.”
U-21s Ryan McHugh and Odhran MacNiallais were both given their debuts against Down; McHugh started against the Mourne County while MacNiallais was introduced in the closing minutes when he replaced Neil McGee.
McHugh impressed at wing-back and St. Eunan’s Ross Wherity, recalled to the squad by McGuinness in the off season, also has showed some promise in his two outings against the Lilywhites and Down.
And both are in the running to be in the starting 15 when McGuinness reveals his team at training tonight (Thursday).