Saturday is another D-Day for Donegal as they put their Ulster crown on the line once again when they go toe to toe with Derry in Sean MacCumhaill Park. (Throw in 5 pm)
Saturday’s game is the reigning champions’ second outing in the 2012 campaign having already put Cavan to the sword three weeks ago in pretty comfortable fashion in the preliminary round.
It’s a repeat of last year’s provincial decider won pretty convincingly by Donegal, 1-11 to 0-8, to claim a sixth Ulster title, and has been billed as being all about passion and determination by Donegal manager Jim McGuinness.
“It is about pride, passion and determination and we know that Derry are going to bring that to Ballybofey with them,” said McGuinness earlier this week.
“It is a huge game for both counties and the fact that we are at home, we want to put in a big performance and that is where our total focus lies. It is championship football and it’s all about performance and getting it right on the day.”
Donegal, who bridged a 19 year gap last year in July’s Ulster final victory over the Oak Leaf side, operated in Division One of the Allianz League this season. They looked composed and very comfortable in their dismissal of Cavan the first day out without ever over-exerting themselves. And that was without their main talisman last season, Michael Murphy.
Derry, on the other hand, struggled in Division Two of the Allianz League and finished third from the bottom of the table with two wins and a draw and just one point better off than Meath and Monaghan, who were relegated.
Saturday’s game is their first outing in ten weeks, other than challenge games against Roscommon and Antrim in the past month.
Their preparations have also been hampered in recent times by a hectic club programme of games, raising fears in the county that they may be a little ring rusty for the Donegal challenge especially given that the champions already have a game under their belts and are at home in Ballybofey.
Captain Michael Murphy missed Donegal’s opener against Cavan and the big Glenswilly man is in a race with the clock to be fit for Saturday evening’s showdown. He is still recovering from knee surgery at the beginning of April and was rated earlier this week by Jim McGuinness as doubtful. McGuinness admitted that Murphy’s rehab had not gone as well as they would like and that he had very little work done since returning to training the week before last.
Skipper Murphy is joined on the doubtful list by midfielder Rory Kavanagh, the man that wore the captain’s armband in Murphy’s absence against the Breffni County.
The St. Eunan’s man is receiving intensive treatment for an ankle injury suffered in a club game the weekend after the Cavan game and, like Murphy, has a real fight on his hands to be ready in time for Saturday evening’s encounter.
Derry are not without their injury problems either. Versatile forward Caolan O’Boyle - who has caused Donegal problems in the past - is definitely out of the game while regular corner back last season Dermot McBride is also sidelined by injury.
In McBride’s case the injury has been long term as he has not featured in a Derry shirt since the Dr. McKenna Cup.
However, Derry have been boosted by the return of the Bradley brothers, Paddy and Eoin, who both missed last year’s Ulster final with cruciate injuries. Eoin suffered the injury just the weekend before the Ulster final.
While they are both back in the frame, Eoin is said to be struggling with a hamstring injury and there are question marks as to whether he will feature on Saturday evening. His older brother Paddy, who by all accounts is flying in training, most definitely will start and is expected to renew his great rivalry with Donegal full-back Neil McGee.
Donegal, on form, go into the game as favourites. But with doubts over the availability of Michael Murphy and Rory Kavanagh and the return of Paddy Bradley and possibly Eoin Bradley to the Derry attack, the odds have shortened.
But despite this Donegal still have the players, the system, the appetite and home advantage to overcome whatever Derry might throw at them to set up a mouthwatering semi-final meeting with Tyrone.
Saturday’s quarter-final will be refereed by Marty Duffy (Sligo) and the game will be preceded by an Ulster Ladies Senior Championship quarter-final, Tyrone v Monaghan at 3.15 p.m.
Donegal supporters are urged to get to Ballybofey early as there will be traffic restrictions because of shopping in the Twin Towns and also evening Mass in Stranorlar at 6 p.m.