After last year’s Ulster final it must have been hard for the Derry players and management to stand on the pitch in Clones and watch Michael Murphy lift the Anglo Celt aloft.
The disappointment of losing an Ulster final stays with you as a player for a long time and it will be the incentive that Derry will use when they come to Ballybofey on Saturday night.
Donegal will go into the game with the added advantage of having already played a game in this year’s championship and with home advantage they will be favourites to go through but all those things go out the window in the heat of a Ulster championship match. Games at this level are won on the slightest of margins and it is usually the team that approaches the game with the best attitude, take their chances when they come and have that bit of luck on the day, that are successful.
For last year’s Ulster final all the talk was where would Derry get their scores with both the Bradleys out. The brothers have been the most prolific scorers for the Oak Leaf men for a long time. On the Donegal front all the talk was whether Jim McGuinness would keep faith in the defensive game plan that had served Donegal in winning the National League Division Two title in 2011.
This year there hasn’t been as much talk; both sides have keep their court and very little has been said in the press. Jim Mc Guinness took the players away last week to a training camp in Meath where he would have been able to run the rule over the players’ fitness and form.
The victory away to Cavan in the preliminary round showed up many positives but there were aspects of the Donegal performance that needed to be improved.
The news that Rory Kavanagh and Michael Murphy are struggling to be fit will place a lot of added pressure on the more established players in the side. Kavanagh has always been a quality player but under Jim McGuinness his role in the middle of the field cannot be underestimated.
The loss of Murphy, again like Kavanagh, would be a huge blow to the team. We are all well aware of Murphy’s pedigree as a forward and his scoring power. However in his role as captain the rest of the team look to him when leadership is required most.
Derry will be heartened by their absence but will know that there are plenty of good players within the Donegal squad that will do a job when needed. This will be added pressure on the likes of Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty, who led the line well against Cavan and both have been showing fine form at club level in recent weeks putting up some very big personal tallies.
Ryan Bradley and Mark McHugh will again be asked to cover the defence and link with the forward line. I would doubt whether Jim McGuinness should give his half-back line the freedom to go forward as much as they did against Cavan. Even though McLoone, Thompson and Frank McGlynn did well going forward, they left the full-back line exposed and even though Cavan were poor we still allowed them far too much time and space in front of goal and if their forwards had been more clinical the game would have been a lot closer.
Derry are a better side with a lot of experienced and talented players in their side who on their day are capable of playing with the best of them. If we afford them that sort of space and time we will be made pay. However I think the Donegal management will know this and I don’t see us playing an open attacking game.
I can see this as another tight game with players getting very little time or space on the ball and probably another opportunity for Pat Spillane to give us another going over. Given that the winners play Tyrone, who had a great win over Armagh in a typical Ulster championship encounter, if it’s to be Donegal’s year again this will be as hard fought as any that came before. Hopefully a win on Saturday night will get us on the road again.