On Sunday Donegal minors will start on the third stage of a truly remarkable journey as they face a physically powerful Dublin side in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final clash in Croke Park.
And team manager Declan Bonner said he was looking forward to finishing a trip that really began three years ago.
For Donegal will certainly not lack continuity as Bonner has been with this same squad of players for the past three years.
“This journey started with these lads about three years ago.
“A lot of hard work has gone into this group and we have already set out our goals in three stages.
“Winning the Ulster Minor League was the first stage, winning the Ulster Championship was the second stage and now, this is the ultimate.
“But it is a challenge that we are really looking forward to and the lads are in a really good place,” he said.
Donegal have already met the Dubs in a challenge match in Killygarry, County Cavan, and Bonner was suitably impressed.
“And it was a very good match that ended in a draw.
“But we know that we are capable of beating Dublin if we can produce the performance we are capable of on the day”.
Bonner was especially impressed by the sheer physique of the Dublin side.
“They are big powerful lads and seem to have a lot of strength and conditioning work done even though they are still only minors.
“They have some very good forwards and very similar to what the Dublin senior team put out.
“If you let them play that expansive game then they could easily rip you apart.”
But Donegal’s erratic dismissal of Roscommon in the quarter-final has certainly given Bonner and his backroom some cause for thought ahead of the looming test against the young Dubs.
“We did lose focus a bit and have gone through video analysis over the past few weeks and we have identified areas that we just can’t let happen again.
“One thing was that we sat back on a lead that we don’t normally do.
“We normally push on and Roscommon’s goal came with fifteen minutes to go but it also came out of the blue.
“We had been comfortable and then all of a sudden it was a three point game and then the pressure started to come on and it is something that we cannot repeat or otherwise we will be just out of the championship.
“Going into Croke Park is a really big event in these lads’ lives.
“We got a look at the pitch before the Donegal and Armagh match and the lads have worked really hard to do themselves justice on this great venue.
“Of course much will also depend on how we adapt to Croke Park.”
Bonner has known his charges for over three years and says it is one of the “tightest squads” he has ever worked with.
“It is very close knit.
“On any given team especially at county level you will have this clique and that clique bit there is nothing like that in this group even though it is a big group of 32 players.
“They know each other really well and there is a great camaraderie and that did not just happen by chance,” he added.
And Bonner saluted the contribution of his tiny but talented Gaoth Dobhair wing-back Cian Mulligan for his role in bringing Donegal through to meet the Dubs.
“He has had his share of injuries but he had a really good match against Roscommon and really drove us on that day with four outstanding points.
“John Campbell is a good target man but we look at the whole team rather than any individual as you are not going to win if only one or two players perform”.
“Our game is a lot about pace and swift counter attacks and we have worked on that.
“When you look at the likes of Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Cian Mulligan, Tony McClenaghan and big Caolan (McGonigle) in the middle of the park, these guys are all going to drive forward at pace and that is very important.”
And the success of the seniors has given Donegal minors a welcome fillip.
“It was huge going out on the pitch in Clones and that is vitally important.
“And it would be brilliant for both teams to reach an All-Ireland final”.