There’s nothing like championship. One of the best days you ever have as a player is the first round of the Ulster championship.
Regardless of the opposition this is the game you get yourself ready for. You want to be in the first fifteen, you want to walk in the pre match parade and win the first ball.
As a county we have been on a great run of form in the Ulster championship for a long time now.
We have expectations of being in the Ulster final at the very least. We want to be in the last eight of the All-Ireland series as champions rather than taking the scenic route. that’s what we have become used to.
Let’s be clear here, the last two Ulster finals have been left behind. It was within our grasp to win both games and knowing the calibre of players that are within the Donegal squad they will want to put things right this year.
There was a time when a team could pull a surprise on one of the favourites, not so much now as teams prepare for every game with the same precision as that of an All-Ireland final. Nothing or no one is taken for granted and rightly so.
Donegal go into the championship on the back of a decent national league. The Donegal management introduced a lot of new blood to the team and to be fair, the results have been excellent. They move the ball quickly through the hands and have a lot of pace coming from the back.
With Michael Murphy directing traffic around the middle of the field, Paddy McBrearty inside, and with Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn keeping it tight at the back, it leaves the likes of Eoin and Ryan Mc Hugh, Eoghan Gallagher,Ciaran Thompson and Marty O'Reilly to run at the Antrim defence.
Antrim have struggled in the last few years and they come to Ballybofey more in hope than with any expectations.
They will hope if they can keep it tight, maybe nick a goal, that they might push Donegal to the wire. But with the greatest of respect to Antrim, I expect Donegal to have too much.
Donegal will be expected to win easy because of the difference in levels that both sides are at. But if Antrim come to frustrate Donegal and pull as many players behind the ball as they can, they will be difficult to break down.
Donegal will have to be patient and use the experience that they have built up over the years to overcome the challenge early on. Once they break Antrim’s resistance they can open up and play.
Very few will remember if the game is good to watch or not. The critics will have their say anyway but the players certainly won’t care as long as they win and get the championship bus rolling.
There will be bigger challenges ahead and hopefully the memories of the last two Ulster finals can be eradicated with another Anglo Celt coming back to the hills.
Away from the championship, the decision by Stephen Mc Brearty from Kilcar to head to America for the summer has raised a number of issues that are rarely discussed with a level playing field.
It’s interesting that like many before him, there has been a bit of criticism from those within the GAA family. I would have rated Stephen as one of the best up and coming players of the last five or six years.
Watching him play for Kilcar at underage level, he was on a different level and indeed in Kilcar’s championship run last year he was one of their main players.
What gets me about the criticism levelled at the young lad is he can’t answer it. He is a student who has been offered a summer where he can make a few dollars, experience a new country, make new connections and friends.
On the other hand many would expect him to train for the entire summer, maybe get very little game time, no doubt he would play very little football for the club.
Yes he may get a chance in the championship, but most players will know where they stand after the national league. If you get very little game time in the league you know your chances of being in the frame for championship are light.
There is also the point that these opportunities do not come around too often and you have to grasp them whenever they come around.
While it can be frustrating for managers and supporters who feel that players should stop everything in their lives for the good of the county team, people have to realise that it doesn’t put food on the table or insurance on the car.
Some players who have been established for years may get something out of the game but the majority don’t, they have to struggle to get on just like everyone else.
Those who level criticism at a young lad who is prepared to leave home to better himself, knowing that people might have a pop at him for a perceived lack of commitment to the county team, should look deeper and consider both sides of the argument before they take to Facebook, Twitter or the media.
Check out www.donegaldemocrat.com on Sunday evening for full coverage of Donegal v Antrim, minor and senior