Donegal are the last of the nine Ulster Counties into championship action when they host Fermanagh on Sunday in Sean MacCumhaill Park. (Throw in 2 pm).
Fermanagh have already a game played. They defeated Antrim by double scores, 2-12 to 1-6, in a preliminary round in Brewster Park three weeks ago.
Donegal’s last game was their league semi-final defeat to Dublin at the beginning of April, eight weeks ago. Dublin won that game 1-20 to 0-13 on their way to demolishing, Kerry, 2-18 to 0-13, to claim a fifth Allianz League title in-a-row.
After years of preliminary and first round outings in the championship, Donegal have enjoyed their longest run in to the championship in years.
“I'd rather it this way,” said Donegal manager Rory Gallagher.
“The whole season has been geared towards being ready for now,” said Gallagher, who had to play Tyrone in a preliminary round in his first year (2015) on May 17th.
“It's been nice and relaxed all year. We had a good start to the league and we knew we could really focus in then on June 12th. When we knew then it was Fermanagh it has brought a nice edge to it over the last couple of weeks.”
Tomás Corrigan scored 0-9 for Fermanagh and Sean Quigley 1-1 in their preliminary round win over Antrim and are the Erne County’s two marquee forwards.
Corrigan scored 1-38 in Fermanagh’s Division Two league campaign and was the sixth highest scorer overall in this season’s Allianz League.
This has led to the view that Fermanagh have an over reliance on Corrigan and Quigley for the bulk of their scores. Hold Corrigan and Quigley and Fermanagh are in bother.
However, this not a theory that Rory Gallagher agrees with about his native county.
“That's said about a lot of teams apart from Dublin and maybe Kerry. People say then that teams don't have marquee forwards and Fermanagh are very lucky to have two of them.
“They've been very successful and Fermanagh only lost three league games in Division Two.
“Monaghan might get a large amount of scores from Conor McManus but that doesn't make it any easier when they create the chances.
“Obviously up front, the two Corrigans and Quigley would grace any team. The two McCuskers - Declan and Paul - are kind of unsung heroes.”
The Donegal boss and former Fermanagh star forward is happy with his own squad and he feels they have the right mix between youth and experience.
“We've a lot of good quality coming in. Ryan (McHugh) had established himself and Odhran (MacNiallais) and the impetus is on another few. Hughie (McFadden) here has been on the panel a number of years - there's Marty O'Reilly, Eoin McHugh. Ciaran Thompson is coming back to himself, wee Jigger is coming back.
“We feel we have an awful lot of quality and we feel we've done well at underage level.
“Age has never been an issue with ourselves. Patrick (McBrearty) came in when he was 17. If we feel they're the best players - whatever their age may be - and if you look at club football, the boys that have come in are the stand-out performers.”
It does not bother the Donegal boss either that Donegal are being written off in many quarters and are seen by many as a spent force.
“There's people who've been writing us off and you have to value what they're saying. Some people have wanted Donegal as a force to be over with a long time ago - 2011, 2012, 2013 - right up to last year people have been writing our obituary.
“We enjoy just going out and playing at this time of year. We back ourselves because we feel we've a really good team with a really good squad. There's lots of young energy in it at the minute. Yes, we've players who have played a lot of football and yes we have players that aren't going to be around that much longer. There's no doubt about that. But those players have lots of quality and lots of seasons and graft.
“The number one strength they have is that they know how to win Ulster championship games.”
Down boss Pete McGrath ,a double All-Ireland winning manager with his native Down in the 1990s, feels Donegal are still a quality side and insists that Fermanagh are going to have to improve big time on their Antrim performance last time out, if they are to be in with a chance against Donegal.
“Donegal are still a formidable team. If you are going to make a short list of the top six teams in the country, Donegal would be on most people’s top six,” insists the Fermanagh boss.
“We know the challenge that faces us and we know what Donegal will bring to the table and we are focussing on ourselves and what we hope to do and how we hope to deal with the threats that Donegal will bring.
“They will be looking at our potential threats and will hope to nullify them and that is the nature of championship football.
“It is a game we are looking forward to. It is a game we are going to relish and you know we are going into the game with confidence and self belief and knowing that if we perform to our capabilities we will not be that far away and that is all you ask for going into any championship match,” said McGrath.