Donegal Ladies begin their quest for All-Ireland glory when they face Tipperary, in the first of their group games on Saturday, in O’Rourke Park, Castlerea, Co Roscommon. ( 2pm)
The back-to-back Ulster champions are in a group along with Tipperary and Munster runners-up Kerry, in a new format.
The new format replaces the old system of knock-out Qualifier rounds with four groups of four teams. They play each other, two games each with the top two qualifying for the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Donegal were in devastating form in the Ulster championship and chalked up big numbers in their wins over Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final, and Armagh in the final.
However it will be five weeks since Karen Guthrie raised the Ulster trophy and for Donegal it is almost a case of starting a brand new championship.
“It is but we have trained away three times a week, once during the week and on Saturdays and Sundays since the Ulster final and everybody is in good shape,” said Donegal joint manager, Damian Devaney.
“The good thing about the break it gave all the injuries time to clear up and for the first time this year we have a fully fit squad and everybody is raring to go.”
Donegal defeated Monaghan 3-17 to 1-9 and they blew Armagh away on a 9-21 to 4-8 scoreline.
Yvonne Bonner hit 4-6 and Geraldine McLaughlin 3-4 against Armagh on a day Donegal had eight different scorers.
“The girls have been playing very well and putting up big scores which has been very encouraging. But Tipperary will be a different type of challenge to Monaghan and Armagh.
“They are last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate champions and they won the Division Two league. They defeated Cavan in the final and besides they have a game under their belts.”
Tipperary lost to Kerry last weekend. Kerry won that game in Nenagh 3-13 to 2-10 so this is a huge game for both Tipperary and Donegal this weekend. Donegal and Kerry will meet the following weekend.
If Donegal take the spoils on Saturday, they will qualify for the last eight with a game to spare because Tipperary will be pointless with all their games played.
“The stakes are high for both teams on Saturday and we are anxious to get the job done this weekend. The last thing we want is to go into the last game needing a win,” said Devaney.
Donegal’s lengthy break might be a slight concern but with Damian Devaney and Maxi Curran involved one would feel they have the experience to overcome that problem.
Given Donegal’s form in the championship so far and the quality and experience in the squad they go into the game as red hot favourites.
“We went into last year’s game in the Qualifiers against Mayo on the back of showing good form in Ulster and we know what happened. Mayo beat us by five points.”
That may be so but Donegal have moved on and have gone up a notch or two this season and their focus is on much higher goals.
And as long as they don’t get caught up in looking too far ahead they should overcome Tipperary with relative ease.