It is backs to the wall for Donegal on Sunday when they face Monaghan in a round two Qualifier in the Ulster Minor (U-17) championship.
The game is in Ballybofey and is the curtain raiser to the Ulster Senior Championship meeting of Donegal and Cavan. (Throw-in 2 pm).
Following a heavy defeat to Tyrone in the first round and in light of the standing down of team coach, Shane Ward, following the 12 point defeat by the Red Hands, the pressure is on management and players to deliver.
Coach Ward was sensationally stood down by manager Gary Duffy a little over 24 hours after the 5-12 to 1-10 defeat by Tyrone.
The reason for the sacking has not been given; both the manager and the coach have remained tight lipped on the cause of the split.
Speaking earlier this week to the Democrat, manager Gary Duffy did not wish to discuss the matter and insisted his focus and that of his management team and players was on Monaghan.
“We are moving on and our focus is getting the show back on the road and preparing for the Monaghan challenge which is going to be a tough one,” said Gary Duffy.
“We got back down to business; we trained twice last week and we had a good session on Monday and there was a real good buzz at Monday’s session.
“The players are really looking forward to the game and they are delighted it is in Ballybofey before the big game.”
Donegal are not only out to erase the manner of the Tyrone defeat , they are also out to exorcise the ghost of Monaghan’s 12 point defeat in the McGuigan Cup final (2-21 to 1-12).
After conceding seven goals in their last two games - Tyrone in the championship and Monaghan in the McGuigan Cup league final - expect to see a more defensive Donegal on Sunday.
“We have no choice but to change things around after conceding 7-31 in our last two games.We are going to have to strengthen the defence and that will mean different personnel from the team that lost heavily to the Red Hands.
“The fact that there are going to be changes has created an edge at training as fellas see it is a chance for them to get into the team and the match day panel. That is positive, too, and has added to the good buzz at training.”
Monaghan, who are managed by former Monaghan senior manager Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney, have already played two games in the championship.
They were pipped by Derry in Celtic Park, the weekend after their McGuigan Cup final win over Donegal.
And last week, they ended Antrim’s championship summer with a convincing 3-12 to 0-6 win over the Saffrons in Belfast.
“They looked sharp against Antrim, but they suffered a few injuries and they also lost Aaron Mulligan to a straight red card. He plays in the half-forward line and is a quality forward and he will be a big loss,” said the Donegal boss, who was in Corrigan Park for Saturday’s game.
“Their goalkeeper Ryan McNulty seemed to be the worst of the injuries and he must be a doubt.”
Duffy has injury concerns of his own with wing-forward Stephen McFadden the greatest cause for concern. The Gaoth Dobhair man suffered a knock to the knee in the Tyrone game and is struggling to recover in time for Sunday’s showdown.
Matthew Mulholland, who missed the Tyrone game with a fractured wrist, is also in a race to be ready for Sunday.
Cathal Gillespie, who has been dogged by injuries all season but was in the frame for a call up this weekend, has been laid low again with concussion after suffering a knock in training the week before last.
Stephen Jones, Karl Gallagher (nephew of former Donegal midfielder Michael ‘Big G’ Gallagher), at left half-forward and Jason Irwin at corner -forward have been identified as the Monaghan players who will need close attention.
Between them this trio hit 1-14 - Jones (0-7,2f), Irwin (1-4), Gallagher (0-3) - of Monaghan’s 2-21 against Donegal in the McGuigan Cup final.
“They are class forwards and right up there among the best U-17 forwards in Ulster and they will take watching on Sunday.
“I feel we have the men for them and we know we are going to have get much tighter at the back and shore up the defence.
“And if we succeed in doing that I feel we have a good chance of advancing because I’m expecting a response from our lads. They are anxious to show before the home support they are much better than they showed against Tyrone last time out and against Monaghan, in the league final before that.”
Duffy is not expected to finalise his starting 15 and match day squad until Friday night, Saturday morning.