Donegal are more than capable of beating Mayo, in Sunday’s final game in Division Two of the Allianz Football League in Castlebar.
The 2012 All-Ireland champions are also more than capable of winning the league outright and are right up there among the top three teams in the country.
That is the view of a former Mayo football and double Connacht championship winner with his native county Eugene McHale. The now Bundoran clubman and Donegal club referee feels that the transition from Jim McGuinness to Rory Gallagher has been a seamless one and that Donegal are back playing with the confidence and panache that saw them win the county’s second All-Ireland title.
“I know Donegal are without Michael Murphy for Sunday’s game. But even taking that into account they are capable of beating Mayo,” said McHale, who won those Connacht championship medals at corner forward, in 1981 and ‘85.
“ I have to say I was very impressed they way they put Tyrone away last Sunday. It would appear to me Donegal are back in the grove again and are serious challengers for major honours again this year.
“As I see it at the moment there are three teams that are out on their own and way above the rest in the pecking order. Donegal, Dublin and Kerry are the three and in no particular order but when it comes down to it the All-Ireland is between those three and at this stage you can take your pick.
“I know Rory Gallagher was along with Jim McGuinness. But there is big difference between a selector/mentor and being the manager and there was always going to be a bedding in period.
“But if you take the last two performances against Tyrone on Sunday and against Kerry even through the lost were top class performances and suggests to me that the bedding in period has been complete and Donegal are in good shape and are a serious team again.
The Knockmore club man and winner of five Mayo Senior Championships with his native club is less sure about where Mayo 2015 are at in the pecking order. He also captained Knockmore to a Connacht Club championship title.
“They played well the first day against Kerry, and got a good result down in Kerry. They also turned in a good performance against Derry, away and Monaghan at home. But they lost at home to Tyrone, by four points and they got a right good hiding from Dublin, also in Castlebar.
“I know they played well in Cork, on Sunday and going on reports were unlucky not to get something out of the game. But I feel their form is too inconsistent and I still feel if Donegal want to win on Sunday, even without Murphy will have too much for them.”
Both Donegal and Mayo are on six points and in the hunt with Kerry - who are also on six points - for one of the league semi-final spots. Donegal are in the lead position on score average. Rory Gallagher’s charges are on plus 5, Mayo on plus three and Kerry have some ground to make up, the All-Ireland champions, they have a score average of -11.
The former Mayo ace insists he has no inside knowledge but feels that Donegal may be happy now that they have secured their top flight status for next season they may be happy to bow out to concentrate on their championship opener with Tyrone, in the middle of May.
“I don’t know what the Donegal thinking is but given that they are real championship contenders they may want to concentrate on the championship. Their championship game with Tyrone, is only six weeks away and if they were to progress to the league which is at the end of April,” they would have only three weeks to prepare for Tyrone.”
Of the two counties, McHale, feels that a run to the league final and the chance of winning a league title might be more on the agenda of Mayo.
“Mayo are not out in the championship until the middle of June so there is no fear of interfeering with championship preparations. Besides this current Mayo side, need to win something to restore confidence. From that point of view they should have a greater incentive advance to the semi-final and a possible crack at winning a national title.
“But if Donegal are serious about the league, I don’t think it will matter much what the Mayo attitude is on Sunday. They still have some ground to make up to be a match for Donegal and that is even without Michael Murphy.”