It is very much a case of stepping into the Lion’s Den for Donegal on Saturday when they face Kerry in the All-Ireland hurling U-21B quarter final in Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon. (Throw-in 3.45 pm)
Donegal the All-Ireland C Champions for the third year in-a-row, also faced Kerry in last year’s quarter final. And the gulf in class was underlined by Kerry’s 36 point winning margin. Kerry won that game 7-22 to 1-4 on the wide open spaces of Semple Stadium, Thurles.
Tom Hennessy was the Donegal manager last year and the former Limerick goalkeeper is back again wearing the manager’s bib once again this season.
“There were U-21 club football games the week before last year’s game and we went into that game with 11 fit players out of a panel of 24,” said the Donegal boss.
“We took a fair old beating that day and Kerry showed no mercy, but the lads played their hearts out but Kerry were at a different level.”
Twelve months on little has changed. The Donegal players have come through a couple of weeks of club hurling championship action.
And naturally these games have taken their toll and Tom Hennessy is resigned to be without his inspirational team captain, Jack O’Loughlin.
He is also sweating on the fitness of three other key players, Paul Nelson, Cathal Doherty and Justin McBride.
“Jack is more or less definitely out. He is struggling with a hamstring problem. It’s not a tear but is something more deep rooted and he is going to need a scan to get to the bottom of it.
“Jack is a huge loss. He played for the club on Sunday in the championship which ended any chance of making it this weekend.
“Our concern is with his long term interest and we don’t want to aggravate the injury anymore until we find out what is causing the problem.
“Paul Nelson has a groin problem while Cathal Doherty and Justin McBride are struggling to shake off ankle injuries.
“We will know their situation better after training tomorrow night (Thursday). We are hopeful that we will have the three boys.”
Donegal won a third All-Ireland C championship two weeks ago after being pushed all the way by Sligo in Markievicz Park.
Donegal won the final thanks to late points from Ben Doherty, Kevin Kealy, Sean Curran and Eddie Lynch to emerge 1-14 to 0-12 victors.
“We are realistic enough to realise that we face a massive challenge against Kerry. Kerry play at a higher level and we are fully aware of that and there are those that say they should play in the Munster championship.
“But all we can do is to play to the best of our ability and see where that takes us.
“The one thing I know for sure is that our lads will give it all they’ve got and you cannot ask for anymore. They are a very honest bunch.”