Donegal are heading into the lion’s den this Saturday for their opening game in the Nicky Rackard Cup Senior Hurling Championship when they face Armagh, in the Athletic Grounds. (Throw-in 3.30pm)
The game is a first round game in the Tier Three championship and is one of three Nicky Rackard ties which are down for decision this weekend.
Armagh, winners of Division 2B of the Allianz Hurling League, and Mayo, relegated from the Christy Ring Cup at the end of last year, are the favourites for the title before a sliothar is struck
“We are under no illusion at the task we face,” Donegal manager Ardal McDermott told the Democrat.
“Armagh are the form team. They won the Division 2B beating Down in a play-off and were promoted to 2 A.
“They are a fine side and that win over Down was a big win for them. It will be a massive boost to confidence going into the Nicky Rackard.
“Armagh and Mayo are the two top teams in the competition. But it's championship hurling and as we all know the championship can throw up a surprise or two.”
Donegal lost all seven games in Division 2B, including a 2-14 to 1-7, second round defeat to Armagh in O’Donnell Park. They've relegated to Division 3A hurling next season.
Doneal also lost to Wicklow and Roscommon in their fight for survival in Division 2 B. Due to a lengthy injury list Donegal were very much under strength for most of the league campaign.
Against Armagh, they lined out without last year's Nicky Rackard All-Star defender Jamsie Donnelly, team captain and the county’s top hurler Danny Cullen, and the experienced duo up front of Kevin Campbell and Enda McDermott.
They also were without experienced defender Marty McGrath and to make matters worse, they lost Paddy Hannigan to a straight red card and centre half back Joe Boyle to a second yellow in the second period.
Hannigan and Armagh’s Ciaran Toner were singled out for red cards after a dust up involving a number of players from both sides.
“We were just a point down at half-time and there were only four in it with seven minutes of normal remaining and before we were reduced to 13 with the sending off of Joe (Boyle),” McDermott said.
Jamsie Donnelly and Danny Cullen returned to action for the play-off games with Wicklow and Roscommon and Donegal’s performances improved.
Donegal lost to Roscommon by a single point on a 3-13 to 4-9 scoreline after Donegal came from seven points down early in the second half.
Ronan McDermott, who has not played since suffering a broken finger in the Armagh game, is back in training and in the reckoning for Saturday’s showdown.
Kevin Campbell, who missed the Roscommon game with a hamstring strain, is also fit again.
“Our performances improved for the last couple of games when we got the boys back,” the manager said.
“It was a little too late to save our league season but hopefully our luck will change in the championship.
“We know we face a big challenge in Armagh, but the morale, despite the way the league went for us, is good and I feel the lads are in a good place and looking forward to the championship.”