ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

BIG INTERVIEW: Declan Bonner's championship journey begins once more

BIG INTERVIEW: Declan Bonner's championship journey begins once more

Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Donegal are in good shape and are ready for the championship and Sunday’s preliminary round clash with Cavan in MacCumhaill Park.

Manager Declan Bonner (pictured) has declared a fully fit squad and that includes Ryan McHugh and Mark Anthony McGinley, who missed most of the Allianz League through injury.

The boss has also declared satisfaction with preparations though he would like some changes to the new rule which prescribes April be set aside for club football.

“We took a week off after the League and then put the heads down,” said the Donegal boss at Tuesday evening’s press call ahead of Sunday’s showdown.

“We were disappointed that we didn’t stay in Division One because it was within our grasp. We got back on Easter Monday and that was the start of our championship preparations and we’re happy enough with where we’re at.”

When asked about Ryan McHugh, who has not played since Donegal played Tyrone at the beginning of March, and Frank McGlynn, who was rumoured to be in bother with a hamstring, Bonner said they were both “flying fit.’’

And in relation to Mark Anthony McGinley, who has been sidelined since picking up a thigh injury against Kerry on the opening day of the league:

“Mark Anthony has made progress and he’s back in training for the last two weeks. He picked up an injury in Kerry and it was slow to heal, but he’s okay.”

The manager also confirmed that U-20 player St Eunan’s Niall O’Donnell is a member of the senior squad and is firmly in his plans.

He also confirmed he had discussed the matter with U-20 manager Gary McDaid.

“Myself and Gary have been talking all season. Jason McGee went back down and the likes of Peadar Mogan, Enda McCormack and Mark Curran, who were also training with us, have gone down as well.

“Niall is a quality player. He is firmly a part of the group.”

With all the injuries cleared up and everybody fit and well again Donegal have a fully fit squad for the first time this season.

“It’s all coming together at the right time. The lads have been training hard for the last five or six weeks and it’s been very good. We need to get a performance now to take us over the line.”

Bonner refused to be drawn on a recent Joe Brolly column about the team’s training camp in Belfast and how it was all hush hush and they had hired a security firm to guard the training camp, other than say:

“We have a job to do to prepare the team for Sunday, which is 13 days into May. We know the task that’s ahead of us. We are up against a very good Cavan team who had a good League campaign and who will be playing Division One football next year.

“We had to have our preparation as good as we can and we have done that. We have worked really, really hard and all we need now is a performance on Sunday.”

On the new April rule for clubs the Donegal boss felt it worked reasonably well but he did feel it was unfair on teams that were out in early May, like Donegal.

He feels this is something that should be looked at.

“We had a job to do to prepare the team for May 13 and that’s what we’ve done. The players were available for the first three or four games. Some of them trained on a Saturday and picked up niggles and ultimately didn’t play on a Sunday at certain times. That was injury related. Any club manager who needed an answer they came on to me.”

And as for the rule going forward the manager said: “It’s very difficult. It depends where you are in the Championship. If you’re Dublin, then you don’t need to be ready for May 13th.

“We have to be ready for May 13th, that’s the bottom line. Every match in Ulster is an Ulster final. We have to get the lads right.

“Ask Stephen Rochford or Kevin Walsh the same, they have to get ready for this weekend. Those guys have to get to that level. It should be the same for everyone. Maybe Dublin or Kerry can afford to have April off and to have a total shut down. There should be a provision for teams who are out early.”

Looking ahead to the season overall and the Super 8s, the Donegal boss has his sights firmly set on an Ulster title.

“You have to target the Ulster title, simple as.

“Every year it comes around, it's the Ulster title. We were there in six finals from 2011 to 2016.

“Tyrone have won the last couple, but we have Cavan coming in this Sunday and that's our first target, and we have to get over that one.”

And despite Cavan’s second half collapse against Roscommon in the Division Two league final, Declan Bonner is expecting a stiff challenge from the Breiffni Blues.

“I don’t think we can read too much into the League final to be honest.

“It looked more like an exhibition game. It was a really open game of football, but this is Ulster Championship; this will be much tighter on Sunday. We have to be ready for that.

“Cavan have done extremely well. They were relegated from Division One and came straight back up. They only lost one game on the way up again and they have a lot of good players, who are playing really well. We have to be on our toes and we have to get a big performance in.”