Donegal’s Ulster championship quarter-final encounter with Derry on Saturday evening in Sean MacCumhaill Park is all about pride, passion and determination and getting everything right on the day.
That is the view of Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness. Nothing else matters! The fact that Donegal are the reigning Ulster champions and played in Division One of the Allianz National League while Derry just about held on to their status in Division Two of the Allianz League will not count when referee Marty Duffy throws the ball in at 5 pm on Saturday evening.
“It is a huge game for both counties and the fact that we are at home, we want to put in a big performance and that is where our total focus lies. It is championship football and is all about performance and getting it right on the day,” insisted Donegal manager Jim McGuinness.
“It is about pride, passion and determination and we know that Derry are going to bring that to Ballybofey with them,” added the Donegal boss.
“We want to go into Ballybofey and put in a performance worthy of a championship match at home and the boys have worked hard with that in mind at the training camp.
“We have goals laid out to achieve within the game and I suppose if there is any pressure it is to achieve those goals. It has nothing to do with being Ulster champions.
“We have a game plan and we want to execute that plan to the best of our ability and if we do that we will put ourselves in a position where we are going to be competitive and if we put ourselves in that position we are in with a chance of winning the game.
“That is where our focus lies and winning the Ulster championship is irrelevant; really it is all about nailing the key areas in relation to our own game plan. The plan is number one.
“Derry won the last time they played a championship match in Ballybofey. They have a lot of quality in the forward line and they have five fine midfielders in P.J. McCloskey, John McCamley, James Conway, Joe Diver and Michael Friel.
“They have a lot of quality all over the field and it is going to be a difficult assignment. They are our neighbours and a derby match and it is all set-up for a good game of football.
“We also know that a lot of their top players did not play in the league and that they will be a different proposition altogether on Saturday evening.
“Neither Paddy or Eoin Bradley played in the league; Gerard O’Kane did not play in the league either and Conleth Gilligan is also fit again. All those players are back so it is going to be a much different Derry we will face on Saturday compared to that which played in the league.
“They carry a serious threat as we know from last year’s Ulster final. They also feel if they had the two Bradleys in last year’s Ulster final that they would have won and a few of them have gone on the record and said as much.
“We have to be ready for that and prepare for a serious challenge and a serious game of football.”
McGuinness is taking the Derry challenge so seriously that he took his entire squad, with the exception of Patrick McBrearty who is sitting his Leaving Certificate, for a four day training camp in Johnstown House Hotel, Meath last week.
“We are happy with the training camp and the way things came together for us. It was brilliant to have everybody away for the few days and not under pressure to head home after training.
“We had the players’ undivided attention for the four days and we got a lot of good quality work in over the four days. It also gave us the opportunity to get the message across and lay out our plans for the Derry game. It was a very useful four days in getting the team right and the players really enjoyed it too and it is now a matter of executing that plan and now putting it into practice on Saturday evening.”
With the clock ticking for injured pair Michael Murphy and Rory Kavanagh and both extremely doubtful, the manager has contingency plans in place.
And while he admits that facing Derry without one of the top forwards in the modern game and a quality midfielder is a tall order, he is happy that he has the reserve strength to fill their boots.
“Since we took over we have put a lot of work and effort into developing a squad and that is what a squad is for, when players are out injured others come in and take their place and step up to the mark.
“We are fortunate, too, that a number of players who have been long term injured but are back training and building up their fitness and they are back in the picture if Michael and Rory are able to make it.
“The most encouraging thing of all is the commitment the players are giving their county and the effort they are putting in to get to a level of fitness where they can be competitive in the Ulster championship and, hopefully, in the latter stages of the championship.
“From that point of view we could not ask for any more from the players. We have a very good group of players who want to play for the county and I’m confident on Saturday evening when the ball is thrown in at 5 o’clock they are going to give everything to get a victory for the county and hopefully the performance they takes them over the line and come 6.30/6.45 pm they are in an Ulster semi-final,” said McGuinness.