Donegal by a couple of points - Sylvester Maguire

Donegal by a couple of points - Sylvester Maguire
Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

The last time they locked horns Donegal emerged one point winners over Monaghan, in a gripping encounter last July in Kingspan Breffni Park.

Donegal won that game, 0-17 to 2-10, the Ulster Championship semi-final replay and that was after the teams had ended all square seven days earlier, also on the wide open spaces of Cavan’s Kingspan Breffni Park.

And that has been the pattern between the two counties, who have been the two top teams in Ulster for the best part of the last decade.

It ended Monaghan, 1-10, Donegal 1-9 when they met last year, on the last day of the league, in Castleblayney.

And the year before in O’Donnell Park, the margin was two, with Monaghan claiming the points on a 0-9 to 1-4 scoreline at the end of a forgettable 70 plus minutes.

There are few in either county will suggest that it will be any different when they go head to head this Sunday in Fr Tierney Park.

Former Donegal and Aodh Ruadh player, Sylvester Maguire, cannot see anything but a couple of points separating the teams, come 4.30 or so on Sunday evening.

“It will be tough and rugged and there won’t be much in at the finish,”said the former Donegal All-Ireland winner, who admitted at being pleasantly surprised at Donegal this season.

“Donegal have done surprisingly well in the league,” said the second level teacher at Colaiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon.

“I didn’t expect us to be as strong as we have shown so far.

“I knew that there was a good crop of young players coming through and that they were all good footballers and I thought it would have taken a year or two.

“The young lads have been a revelation and they seem to have rejuvenated the senior men.

“The return of Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn after the Kerry game has made a big difference and really steadied the team.

“Neil is like a general in the defence directing the young lads around him and letting them get on with the game.

“The young lads have brought pace to the game and this has allowed us to play more attacking football and they have been kicking some brilliant long range points.

“They are in great shape and last Saturday night the way the tore into it from the off was like a championship game. The first half in Ballybofey was at championship pace which was great to see in a league game in March.”

SECOND PLACE

Donegal and Monaghan are sitting on seven points from their five games played, with Donegal in second place behind Dublin, on score average. Monaghan are fourth.

Donegal lost to Kerry in their opening game, drew with All-Ireland champions, Dublin and recorded wins over Roscommon, Cavan and Tyrone. Their first half performance against the Red Hands and reigning Ulster champions has been hailed by many as one of the best 35 minutes of football witnessed in MacCumhaill Park in years.

Monaghan, who survived the drop to Division Two by the skin of their teeth last season, have also been one of the form teams.

Their away wins over Mayo and Kerry were big statements of intent from the men managed by former Fermanagh player, Malachy O’Rourke.

They drew with Cavan in a local derby clash and lost away to Tyrone. And last weekend, they registered a seven point win over Roscommon.

“Monaghan are a good side. They have had an up and down season but overall they are going well and like ourselves are in a good position.

“They are strong at the back and like ourselves like to break from the back and of course they have Conor McManus up front. He is a fantastic player and he is the man to watch on Sunday. If you hold McManus you are a long way down the road to winning.

“The way our defence is playing they are well capable of holding him. It would be brilliant to win and take another step on the road to a league final. I fancy Donegal by a couple of points, but it will be tight.”