If Declan Bonner was offered a home All-Ireland quarter-
final at the start of the season he would have grabbed it with both hands.
Now that it has happened the Donegal boss feels the game presents his team with a great chance at qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-final.
“Going into MacCumhaill Park as Ulster champions in a quarter-final with the prize for the winner a place in an All-Ireland semi-final is a huge opportunity,” said the Donegal boss.
“It is one we are really looking forward to and the fact it is Tyrone, our rivals, means it is even more fascinating.”
Donegal have come through the more straightforward route of winning Ulster following wins over Cavan, Derry, Down and Fermanagh and they followed this with a Super 8 win over Roscommon and a five point defeat by All-Ireland champions Dublin.
Tyrone, on the other hand, after losing to Monaghan first day out in Ulster, have come through Qualifier wins over Meath, Carlow, Cavan and Cork.
And they dished out a football lesson to Roscommon in their first outing in the Super 8s. They defeated the Connacht runners-up by 18 points, before going down to Dublin by three points last time out in Omagh.
“It is a great place to be and it will be a better place to be on Sunday evening if we come out on the right side of the result.”
For Bonner and his new look squad, playing a more expansive game than they have been for a the last few years under Rory Gallagher, it is very much mission accomplished as far as goals and targets set at the start of the season.
“The targets set at the start of the season when we sat down with the players for the first time were to win Ulster and qualify for the Super 8s.
“Did we think they were achievable? Yeah, we did, but we felt a little bit of tweaking to be done and the players have adopted and they have gone about their business in a professional manner,
“You can see that in every training session we have; the standard, quality and intensity of those sessions has been top class. It has also been very evident in all our games too.”
Donegal won just one game in the Allianz League , against Kildare in Ballyshannon while they lost to Kerry,Galway, Dublin, Tyrone, Monaghan and Mayo and were relegated along with Kildare.
But despite the defeats and relegation the management and the players never lost belief in their own ability.
“We took huge belief from our first league game down in Kerry, a game we should have won. And we gained great belief from the second game in the league against Dublin, albeit we lost it too.
“We took great belief from the league despite the defeats, to stick with our style of play and that it would eventually be successful and that we would win games.
“Overall we took a lot of positives out of the league and we took a week off after the last game against Mayo and we got back down to training the following Monday.
“The players were happy to stick with the style of play and you could see a real pep in their step at that first training session back.
“There was a genuine belief in the group we could do well in Ulster and it was a matter of getting down to working hard. There was a genuine belief among the squad that the Ulster championship was there to be won and we were capable of winning it.”
Donegal went on to defeat Cavan in Ballybofey in the preliminary round in Ulster. And they followed up with comfortable wins over Derry, Down before overcoming Fermanagh in the final.
“Winning Ulster and the manner in which we achieved it instilled more belief in the players.
“So the lads are in a very good place though the players are fully aware they are going to have to play better than they have done all year if we are to be in with a chance against Tyrone.
“Tyrone are a very good side. We played them in the National League, we played them in the McKenna Cup; it will be interesting to see how the game unfolds and the way Tyrone play and how we are going to set up and it should be a very interesting tactical battle.
“Tyrone are well organised. They attack well, they defend well. People are on about Tyrone being a defensive side, which they are.
“But they also break in numbers and they’ve been chalking up big scores in their games.
“They are dangerous, they have some very good players. And they’re just a well organised, well drilled team.
“Mickey Harte has been around the block long enough now, he’s achieved everything in the game as a manager. They’re going to be a difficult, difficult side to break down and it’s going to be a huge task.”
It is a task which is more difficult in light of the fact Donegal are definitely without their ace marksman and top scorer in the Ulster campaign, Patrick McBrearty.
McBrearty suffered a cruciate injury in the Ulster final against Fermanagh and hasn’t played since. The Kilcar man had his knee surgery on Friday of last week and is out for the remainder of the season.
“He will probably also miss a good slice of next season too,” said Bonner.
Flying defender Eoghan Bán Gallagher has also been ruled out with an elbow injury picked up early in the Roscommon game.
“We would love to be going into the game with a full deck of cards, but that's the way it goes.
“These games have been coming thick and fast right through the Ulster campaign, and now into the Super 8s.
“The morale has been very good in the squad. It's unfortunate and it is a blow that those fellas aren't there, but it opens the door for someone else to come in and step up.
“I’m confident we have the players to do so. We know we are going to have to improve our performance.
“It is something we look for every day we go out. We kicked 20 scores against Roscommon but there were chances that we didn't take.
“We had one or two goal chances that didn't go for us, and it's going to be small margins against Tyrone, and we're going to need to take those chances, and we have to be more clinical if we are to come out on top.”