Donegal hurlers have not beaten Mayo in over a decade but ahead of Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final Donegal manager, Ardal McDermott, insists the gap is narrowing.
Donegal host Mayo on Saturday in O’Donnell Park (3.30 p.m.), for a place in the Croke Park final meeting with Armagh or Fingal, who meet in the second semi-final, also on Saturday.
“I know Mayo are one of the favourites along with Armagh from the start of the year for the Nicky Rackard and it may seem a tall order to some,” the Donegal boss told the Democrat earlier this week.
“We haven’t beaten Mayo at senior level in 15 years, but the gap is narrowing and some day it is going to happen and no better day than this Saturday in O’Donnell Park,” the Donegal boss insisted.
Donegal lost to Mayo in Castlebar in the opening game of this year’s Allianz Hurling League Division 2B by four points, 0-13 to 1-14. Mayo football star, Keith Higgins, posted four points in that game and ran the show up front for the locals.
Higgins played for Mayo in their 0-22 to 1-11 win over Armagh in Ballina and scored two points from centre half-forward.
Mayo footballers are due to begin the defence of their Connacht football championship crown the following weekend in London casting a doubt as to whether Higgins will line out this weekend in O’Donnell Park.
“We don’t know what the situation is with Keith Higgins, but we are preparing for the game as if he is going to be playing.
“He was very influential in the league game in Castlebar so we have to be ready if he does play and plan accordingly,” said McDermott.
The Donegal boss took great heart from the league game in Castlebar and it is going on that performance he is basing his belief that the gap is narrowing between the two teams.
“There was only a couple of pucks of a ball between us that day and we were missing a number of key players.
“We didn’t have Danny Cullen, Jamesie Donnelly or Justin McGee that day and we also lost Marty McGrath to injury in the game.
“Danny, Jamesie and Justin are back and playing well and we have a much stronger team now and have improved a good bit since that day.
“I know it was the first day of the league and Mayo have improved too, but we are in good shape and really looking forward to the challenge. We accept they are a good side but with the exception of Marty McGrath and Enda McDermott, we have a fully fit squad and there is a genuine belief in the squad that it is a game we can win.”
Donegal had a disastrous league campaign in Division 2B and suffered seven straight defeats.
They also lost their first round game in the Nicky Rackard Cup, but they have bounced back with wins over Fermanagh (home) and Monaghan (away), two Division 3A teams, in their last two outings.
Of those two their 4-14 to 3-14 away win over Monaghan in Inniskeen was the most impressive and has also fuelled the boss’s optimism.
Lee Henderson, Kevin Campbell, Ronan McDermott and Ciaran Mathewson scored the goals with Henderson posting six points and Kevin Campbell three while Niall Cleary chipped in with three points. Mathewson and Sean McVeigh scored the other two points.
While 4-14 was an impressive tally, the concession of 3-14 to Monaghan - a Division 3 team - is a cause for concern. Mayo will be much more clinical up front than Monaghan and the Donegal rearguard are going to have to tighten up considerably if Donegal are to narrow the gap even further and even register that long overdue win over the men in the green and red.
Donegal trained on Tuesday night and will have a light workout tomorrow night Friday after which Ardal McDermott will name his starting 15 with no great changes expected from the formation that started against Monaghan last time out.