With no points from two outings thus far on their return to the Allianz National Football League Division One, Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan has emphasised the importance of getting off the mark on Sunday against Cork.
Manager Jim McGuinness has made repeated reference to the importance of competing in the top flight, thus giving his team the most ideal preparation for the Ulster championship, which throws in what a fixture against an improving Cavan side at Breffni Park on May 20. And with only 10 points left to play for having already squandered the chance of four, the Ballybofey encounter means Donegal need a win as much as they want one.
“We have to look at Cavan first of all and hopefully take it from there,” Durcan said in reference to the opening assignment in the defence of the Anglo Celt. “It could be a long Ulster championship if we get a good run in it. That’s what we are aiming for.
“Nobody has ever done it back-to-back from the preliminary round so that’s something we have to focus on. It can work for you, giving you an extra game under your belt. We played Cavan in the Dr McKenna Cup and you could see the improvement in them from last year.”
Between now and then, though, there is plenty for McGuinness to do to get the panel to the level they were at last summer, when a first Ulster championship was won in 19 long years and only a two-point loss to Dublin prevented only a second ever All-Ireland final place.
The honeymoon has since ended and the last few months have been pricklier than the preceding 12 but the scent of summer makes a pleasant odour. Cork come to Ballybofey on Sunday with their chests puffed out having hammered Down 4-11 to 0-10 and Durcan insists whatever about Cavan, the next step on the journey will have to take precedence for now.
“The Cork game is a huge game and I wouldn’t really look any further than that,” he said. “We really need to step up to the mark. Hopefully we everyone can put in a much better performance than we have to date in the league. Everyone knows what Cork have going for them as there’s big men there. They’re all natural footballers but playing teams like Cork is what we strived for last season and hopefully we can create a good atmosphere in Ballybofey on Sunday.”
While Donegal were unfortunate to return from Newry on opening night with nothing on they were fortunate to pick up the same total by a somewhat more respectable margin in the end three weeks ago. Laois, whom many had tipped as the likeliest fallers in the competitive minefield of Division One, led by 11 points at one stage in a dreary second half before late goals from Anthony Thompson and Neil Gallagher put a knob of polish on a 2-9 to 2-6 loss.
“It was a very disappointing display as Letterkenny is a place we love playing and it’s a great facility,” Durcan continued. “We just didn’t perform. The goals we scored at the end made it a bit better looking for us but Laois were the better team. We played them last year and there’s a definite improvement. Against Down we didn’t play too badly and were maybe unlucky to come away with something.”
With Down and Laois considered perhaps to be two of the fixtures where gaining points might’ve been presumed slightly easier to obtain, Donegal now face a tough run of fixtures with the other three All-Ireland semi-finalists from last season in the form of Dublin, Kerry and Mayo, as well as the 2010 Sam Maguire winners Cork.
We’ve really knuckled down since at the hard training and we have to move on,” Durcan added. “We’ll definitely get our test from the likes of Cork and Kerry, Mayo and Dublin. It’s not getting any easier. It’s the championship that matters and something we believe about Division One football is that it’s the only way you can improve at this of year. You want to be testing yourself and it’s a help playing the better teams.”