The race for the Dr. Maguire Cup for 2017 begins at the weekend with the first round of matches in the Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure Donegal Senior Championship.
There is action also in the Intermediate Championship, with games in both competitions on Saturday and Sunday.
The spotlight will be on Glenswilly as they begin their defence of the title at home to Ardara, while there should be a bumper crowd in Towney as Kilcar begin their quest to bridge the gap to 1993 with Gaoth Dobhair as visitors in the tie of the round.
The game between Burt and Killybegs, scheduled for Saturday evening, has been postponed because of the involvement of so many Burt players on the Donegal hurling team, who play Monaghan in the Nicky Rackard Cup on Saturday afternoon.
All the games on Sunday are timed for 2 p.m. with throw-in on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. There are reserve games at all venues with 5.30 p.m. throw-in on Saturday and 12.30 on Sunday.
Sunday, MacCumhaill Park
MacCumhaill’s v St. Michael’s
The home side will be hoping that Martin O’Reilly has recovered from his hamstring twinge suffered in New York for this game. The Twin Towns side have had a mixed league and one would feel that St. Michael’s may have too much firepower for them in this opening encounter.
Verdict St. Michael’s
Sunday, Gaelic Park
Bundoran v Malin
Bundoran got a great league result last week at home to Naomh Conaill with Jamie Brennan in goalscoring mood. Malin should have a full deck to work from and they have a good championship pedigree. However, at home Bundoran, if they can reproduce their league form, could edge it.
Saturday, Burn Road
Termon v Naomh Muire
Naomh Muire, one of two teams operating in Division Three, but in the Senior Championship, have a difficult task against Termon. The home side have a much higher championship pedigree and will be expected to get the campaign off on a winning note.
The other game in Group B - Burt v Killybegs - has been postponed.
Sunday, Pairc Naomh Columba
Glenswilly v Ardara
The holders open their defence at home to Ardara, who they also met last year. Ardara won that game by 0-8 to 0-6 in Pearse Park, but now they must travel. Glenswilly had their spies in Falcarragh on Sunday evening but would have seen an understrength Ardara in action.
Will Neil Gallagher make an appearance for Glenswilly? There are rumours that he is close to a return.
If that is so, and with Michael Murphy leading the charge, it’s hard to see Ardara having enough, although they have been getting their best results away from home this year.
Kilcar v Gaoth Dobhair
The plum tie of the opening round. Can Gaoth Dobhair turn their excellence at U-21 into senior championship? That is the big question. Will Kieran Gillespie be able to play any part?
It is expected that Ryan McHugh will return as he has been back in training, so Kilcar should have a fully fit squad.
No doubt there will be a bumper crowd in Towney for this clash of two teams who would be in the top five contenders for outright honours. Both sides have plenty of scoring power and it might come down to who wants it most.
Sunday, Rosses Park
Dungloe v Naomh Conaill
On any other year, this would be regarded as a banker for Naomh Conaill, but the Glenties based side have not been going as well this year, winning just one of their four league games (against Milford). Now without Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone through injury, they are vulnerable.
Dungloe lost out to Glenfin in the Gaeltacht, but like many clubs, their eye was more on this game. With plenty of young talent coming along, they are beginning to make an impression.
Sunday, Tirconaill Park
Four Masters v St. Eunan’s
These sides met last Sunday in the league at the same venue and the Letterkenny men were three points winners. They have so much talent that it is almost impossible to see how Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher could organise the home side to spring a surprise. John Haran is still going strong in the middle of the field alongside Rory Kavanagh and when you look at their subs list on Sunday - Conall Dunne, Caolan Ward, Eamonn Doherty, Darragh Mulgrew - you just cannot see any other result other than a win for St. Eunan’s, who are five from five in the league.
Four Masters are building a young side and could have got a better draw, but it will be a good test for their younger players.
Verdict: St. Eunan’s
Saturday - Pairc na nGael
Naomh Columba v Naomh Brid
Naomh Columba, operating in Division Two, have dropped just one point in their five games, while Naomh Brid have just one win from five in Division Three.
On the back of those statistics this should be a home win. Pairc na nGael used to be a fortress, but this is basically a young Naomh Columba side. Still they have a proven championship pedigree.
Naomh Brid, even without David Walsh, will give them a test, but if the Glen men harbour any championship ambitions, then they have to win this game.
Verdict: Naomh Columba
Saturday - Pairc Naomh Fionnan
Cloughaneely v Fanad Gaels
It’s unlikely that big Jason McGee will be available to the locals as he is still recovering from a knock to the head suffered against Dublin in the All-Ireland U-21 final. But the home club will be on a high after winning the Donegal Gaeltacht senior title on Monday.
Denis Boyle is still finding the scoreboard and they have the likes of Kevin Mulhern, Declan McGarvey and Darren McGeever to drive them on.
Fanad Gaels have been showing good form in the league under former player, Aidan McAteer, but they will need something special from the likes of Seamus ‘Nanny’ Friel to get a result here.
Saturday - Moyle View Park
Milford v Aodh Ruadh
Milford, beaten in the final last year after a replay, will be determined to make amends. It was the only blot on what was a fantastic year for Danny O’Donnell’s side. They met Aodh Ruadh in the semi-final last year and it was closer than the 2-10 to 0-12 final scoreline.
Now in Division One, Milford have three points from their five games and probably know that it will be a struggle for survival, but they are competing very well against the top sides. Their defeats have been by small margins.
On the other hand, Aodh Ruadh, promoted from Division Three, have been flying, winning all their five matches and notching up serious scores such as 3-17, 6-22 and 4-14 in their last three games.
James O'Donnell has them playing a very attacking brand of running football which will trouble the home side.
This game has the potential to be the game of the weekend. Both sides will fancy their chances of making it to the quarter-finals at least, and whoever wins here will have a more comfortable passage.
Sunday - Dunkineely
Naomh Ultan v Carndonagh
Naomh Ultan made the quarter-finals of the Intermediate Championship last year, losing out to Aodh Ruadh. In a tough group, if the side now managed by Kilcar’s Kevin Lyons, are to match that feat, then they have to win this game at home to Division Four side Carndonagh.
They lost a couple of players to injury in last Saturday night’s game against Fanad Gaels - Dermot Gallier and Peter Alvey. However, they still should have enough to get through.
Verdict: Naomh Ultan
Sunday - Scarvey
Buncrana v Downings
This is another of those scenarios of a Division Two side against a Division Three side. Downings are in the Intermediate Championship after winning the Junior last year, but this is a tough assignment for them.
Buncrana should have more than enough to take this tie and put themselves in a good position for a quarter-final place.
Sunday - Pairc Taobhoige
Glenfin v St. Naul’s
This is potentially one of the games of the weekend in the Intermediate Championship. St. Naul’s, crowned Junior Gaeltacht champions on Monday, against the defeated Gaeltacht senior finalists, Glenfin.
The Parish of Inver side have a 100% league record under John McNulty, and this year have Barry Griffin and Stuart Johnston back from their travels. They will also have county minor captain, Peadar Mogan, available for this game.
Glenfin are operating a league higher in Division Two and after dropping down from the Senior ranks, will be hoping that they can have a championship run. They are still without their frontline leader, Gerard Ward, who took some time out to travel. Could he return in time? It would be a big boost for the home side.
Could be close.