Donegal and Dublin lock horns once again this Saturday night on Croke Park’s hallowed sod in the penultimate round in Division One of the Allianz League. (Throw-in 7 pm)
Dublin, the reigning league and All-Ireland champions, go into the tie on the back of an unbeaten five game run.
Donegal are on six points out of a possible ten and are third in the Division One League table behind Dublin and Roscommon and need at least one win from the last two games to clinch a place in the last four. They face Monaghan in Castleblaney on Sunday week in their final game.
After a great start and three wins on the bounce over Down, Cork and Mayo, Donegal have gone off track on their last two outings away to Kerry, and at home last time out to Roscommon.
Those defeats to Kerry and Roscommon have raised doubts about Donegal and where they team of 2016 are at and their potential for the business end of the season later on in the summer.
While he admits he would have preferred to win both games, Donegal boss Rory Gallagher is not overly worried about his charges being off the pace in those last two games.
“We had a great start winning the first three games and I was happy enough albeit we lost leaving Kerry. I felt we had played well to get back into the game and had drawn level early in the second half but did not kick on to get the win,” said the Donegal boss.
“Against Roscommon the last day after a poor start I thought we regrouped well and were back in the game when Odhran MacNiallais picked up a second yellow and was sent off.
“After that Roscommon took the initiative again and pulled away.”
Mathematically, Donegal are not fully clear of the relegation trap door. But it would take a strange series of results in the last two rounds if they were to find themselves in relegation bother.
“It is not something I have studied too closely but from a points perspective we probably need to win one of our remaining two games to be 100% certain of our position in the league.
“If we pick up another two points we will most definitely be into a league semi-final but for now we are looking no further than Dublin on Saturday night.”
Donegal may have a good championship record against the Dubs, but Rory Gallagher will draw little comfort from his adopted county’s league record against the Metropolitans.
In the 21 league meetings to date Dublin have won 13, Donegal six and one has ended in a draw. The draw was in 2013 when Paul Mannion scored a late point to tie up the game in Ballybofey, a result combined with Kerry beating Tyrone in Omagh which relegated Donegal to the second division. Donegal’s last win over Dublin was in 2007.
Dublin won last year’s encounter, which was also in Croke Park, by five points, on a 2-10 to 0-11 scoreline.
“There are those that say you are unfortunate to have Dublin away two years in-a-row. But we feel we are lucky to be getting to play Croke Park so early in the year.
“It is good that it is a bit later in the season too because the pace will be a bit higher than if we had played them in game one or game two in the league.”
Christy Toye, Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Frank McGlynn and Neil McGee did not play for their clubs at the weekend.
However, with the exception of Frank McGlynn, Gallagher expects to have all the rest for Saturday night’s showdown with the champions.
“Frank is in the recovery process from a hamstring injury he picked up towards the end of the Mayo game.
“He had a scan on the injury and it revealed some damage to the hamstring. He won’t be far away this weekend and we will not be sure until later in the week though it may be the Monaghan game the following week before he is ready.
“Christy picked up a slight groin strain in the Roscommon game. Big Neil has a slight back problem but they both should be fine and Neil McGee is fit again. Their reason for sitting out their weekend games was purely precautionary.
“Karl did not play for Four Masters because he was carrying a one match ban over from last season.”
Meanwhile, Neil McGee has also confirmed that he has withdrawn his appeal against his one match ban imposed following Donegal’s game with Kerry.
The manager also reported that Colm McFadden is very much on the comeback trail and it was hoped to get him back and integrated with the football side of training this week.
Gallagher said that he was hoping to get a good look at St Eunan’s Caolan Ward in training over the next two weeks.
Ward was one of Donegal’s best newcomers in the Dr McKenna Cup, but except for a few minutes at the end of the Mayo game he has seen no other action.
“Caolan is at a slight disadvantage that he is in college in Carlow and he doesn’t be involved at all in any training with us and he is working away on his own.
“He got a run out against Mayo, but he is at home now for Easter for two weeks and is training with us and that will be a big advantage and we will get a good look at him,” explained the Donegal boss.
Regardless of Dublin’s good league record against Donegal, Rory Gallagher insisted that his charges were looking forward to the challenge and they feel that if they can put in a big shift they are hopeful they can come out the right side of the result.