Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has a clear vision of what he wants out of the Allianz National Football Division One campaign, which gets underway, on Saturday evening against Kildare, in Croke Park. (Throw in 5 pm).
The game is the opening tie in the Allianz League and forms an attractive double bill with the meeting of Dublin and Cork at 7 pm.
Survival in the top flight and continued regular football with the top teams is Donegal’s league ambitions in 2013, before the focus switches to the real action and the defence of the All-Ireland championship crown.
“We need a minimum of six points in the league to survive which is our main objective for the league and anything after that is a bonus as we turn our attention to the championship and May 26th against Tyrone,” said McGuinness.
The All-Ireland winning manager is the first to admit that survival will be a tall order.
“It is a very strong Division this year; you have got Down, last year’s beaten semi-finalists; you have got Tyrone, Kerry, Cork and Dublin. Every single game will be tough. But that is where you want to be, playing with the big boys and we found that playing the top teams did help us going into the championship.”
And while points are precious, survival is the number one objective in the league, he also insists that the main focus is all about being ready for Tyrone in the championship.
He also fully accepts that Kildare, on Saturday evening, will pose as big a challenge as they will face in their seven games.
“You know what you are going to face when you play Kildare. They are going to be very fit. They are always going to be strong, very well organised and highly motivated and any Kildare team I have ever seen have delivered on those aspects 99% of the time.
“It is a big challenge for us, but it is also a good challenge for us and one we are looking forward too. The most important thing on Saturday night is that we get back playing football and we start building for May 26th. If we go out and get a draw or even suffer a narrow defeat we would probably be happy enough.”
McGuinness is planning this week without Footballer of the Year, Karl Lacey, recovering from hip surgery; Christy Toye, struck down with a virus, and David Walsh, who is also on the treatment table.
He also admits that Neil Gallagher is struggling with injury and Saturday night’s game may come a week too soon for him.
In the absence of Gallagher, St. Michael’s Martin McElhinney is expected to partner Rory Kavanagh in the middle of the field with Ryan Bradley teaming up with Leo McLoone and Mark McHugh in the half-forward line. However, McHugh picked up a calf injury last week in training and only played the first half for Sligo I.T. in the Sigerson Cup on Tuesday. Captain Michel Murphy is once again expected to spearhead the attack with Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty in the corners.
In the absence of Kark Lacey, Malin’s Declan Walsh looks to be the number one choice for wing-back, with Anthony Thompson deputising for Lacey at centre-half back.
New additions Ross Wherity (St. Eunan’s) and Ryan McHugh (Kilcar) are both understood to be going well in training and are expected to be in the match day 26.
Donegal probable: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Declan Walsh, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn; Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney; Mark McHugh, Leo McLoone, Ryan Bradley; Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty.