Just over two weeks ago Donegal won a sixth Ulster Senior Championship crown bringing to the end a nineteen year barren harvest.
Jim McGuinness, who was a member of the 1992 Donegal squad, the last team to claim Ulster glory, is the man that has led Donegal out of the wilderness and brought an end to the hard luck stories and near misses down the years.
And having now conquered Ulster, McGuinness and his squad have set new targets and new goals as they enter the All-Ireland race this weekend at the quarter-final stage when they meet Kildare in Croke Park.
While setting no lavish targets, the rookie Donegal boss has set his sights on Donegal making their mark on the national stage and sees Saturday’s encounter with the Lilywhites as a great opportunity. One not to be spurned.
“We have worked hard and upped the training since the Ulster final because we see Saturday’s game and the quarter-final as a great opportunity for this group of players,” McGuinness told the Democrat. “It is an opportunity that we do not want to let slip and we want to give it our best shot and while we face stiff opposition and it is obviously a difficult game for us to win we go into it in confident mood.
“We will look for all the players to put in a big performance and a big effort and even if we don’t get over the line and get the result we will be very proud of the players.
“They know that if they put in a big effort for the county that we will be more than happy and the county will be happy with them.”
In Saturday evening’s encounter Donegal will face a physicially strong Kildare side hardened by a number of good Qualifier campaigns in recent seasons and a team that have stood on the edge of the Promised Land on more than one occasion in recent years.
“Kildare are extremely well conditioned, very fit and very strong. They have a new full-forward this year in Tomas O’Connor. James Kavanagh is a very good player and played well last weekend against Derry.
“I think every one of their forwards scored against Derry and Johnny Doyle kicked six points from midfield. They have very athletic defenders and have a fair bit of height in their full-back line.
“They have a lot of quality players and are far more battle hardened than us. They have not lost a qualifier game in something like four years and that makes them formidable opposition.
“They will not fear Donegal and Croke Park is like a second home this year to them.”
Despite this, the Donegal boss is quick to stress that Donegal will not be overawed by their opponents or their surroundings. But he also hastens to add that Kildare will hold no fear for Donegal either.
“We have worked hard to get to this stage. We have been very honest with ourselves all year and the fellas have not shirked training or anything we have asked them to do and they are in good shape.
“We hope to go to Croke Park and tap into all that work and hopefully it will be enough to take us over the line and if it does it will be dream come through for a lot of them.
“We are looking forward too and are excited about playing in the All-Ireland series and while we know it is going to take a huge physical effort we feel we are up to the challenge.”
While Kildare present a different type of challenge than any of the teams (Antrim, Cavan, Tyrone and Derry) that Donegal have played so far, the Donegal boss does not expect to alter his side too much from that which defeated Derry in the Ulster final.
“I suppose a lot will depend on how Brick (Dermot Molloy) and Rory (Kavanagh) and Kevin Rafferty go this week. Dermot trained for the first time on Tuesday night since the Ulster final,” McGuinness explained.
“Rory and Kevin received specialist treatment in Dublin last week and the did some light work on Sunday and did a little more on Tuesday night so we are going to wait and see how they go on Thursday night before we decide on the team.
“But the boys that played the last day played well and while there are a number of fellas going well and pushing hard in training to be honest I don’t expect to make many changes from the last day.”
After winning a first Ulster title in 19 years the Donegal boss does not agree with the prevailing view that Donegal are in bonus territory against Kildare on Saturday evening.
“We will be taking it like any other game we played all year and where it is played and the stage of the competition it is at is not all that important to us.
“We were not going around talking about 19 years and bridging a gap before the Ulster final. We were talking about a game of football that had to be won and this Saturday’s game is no different and we will not be approaching it any differently.
“Certain things in the course of the game are going to have to happen for us. But that is the way we are approaching the game.
“Kildare have strength in their squad and we are going to have to look at that. We are going to have our own game plan and I suppose we are happy at this stage that it is embedded in our system.
“The only thing we can hope to do is improve on it and if we can push forward and step it up a notch we will be happy with that and that is what we will be striving to do on Saturday.
“Hopefully, that will be enough to take us over the line and into a semi-final and if it doesn’t, we are going to have to evaluate and re-appraise for next year.
“The Ulster Championship is over now and we have won that and a new championship, the All-Ireland Championship, starts on Saturday and if we can win one game in that and progress to the semi-final it will be brilliant.”
Jim McGuinness will not finalise his team until after training tonight (Thursday) at the earliest, but it may be Saturday before the final selection is revealed.
Donegal will travel to Dublin on Friday afternoon and overnight in the capital in preparation for their crack at Kildare and tilt at a place in the last four in the country.