Donegal face into their second Super 8s All-Ireland Championship on Sunday when they face Meath in Sean MacCumhaill Park.
The other games are against Munster champions Kerry in Croke Park (Sunday 21st), and away to Mayo, two weeks later in Castlebar.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner after guiding Donegal to back-to-back Ulster titles is looking forward to the Super 8s and the challenge Meath, Kerry and Mayo present.
“It is playing three big games in the middle of the summer and it is where you want to be playing football,” said the 1992 All-Ireland winner, who is in his second term as Donegal manager.
“The challenge now for us is to move on to the next level and that is to get out of the Super 8s and qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final. For us that will be progress after missing out last year. That challenge got underway for us the Wednesday after the Ulster final.
“We play Meath at home on Sunday in Ballybofey and we know them well. We had two good games with Meath in the league and we are going to have to play well to get off to a winning start.
“They certainly will be no walkover. They have recovered well from the heavy defeat at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster final and as we know from the league games they have a lot of quality players and will be no pushover.
“Then we have Kerry in Croke Park and we know what they bring to the table and we have to go to Mayo for the last game in McHale Park.
“They will all be tough challenges. But the reality is when you get to this stage of the championship there are no easy games. They are all top teams. They all have good players, we will look at those teams as we face them.
“We will assess their strengths and perceived weaknesses and then focus on our own game. But the focus this week is on Meath and getting our own game right.”
The Donegal boss is in the very happy position of having a fully fit squad which means that Eoin McHugh, who missed the Ulster final through injury and Caolan McGonagle, who has not featured in the championship so far this season, are both fully fit again.
“All 30 players are fully fit and working hard and fighting for those jerseys and looking forward to playing Meath in the first round.”
Odhran McFadden Ferry was a surprise inclusion for his first game in the Ulster final against Cavan and the Donegal boss did not rule out handing a starting berth next weekend to one of a number of young players in the squad.
“Odhran is in with us for the last three months and has come on in recent weeks and really put his hand up in training.
“It may have come as a surprise to some outside the group but it came as no surprise from anyone in the group.
“Odhran has trained well for the last three months and he waited for his chance and when it came he grabbed it.
“We have a 30 man squad and any one of the 30 can be introduced next weekend and play. Every night and at every training session we look at every aspect of the game and the game plan and where lads are at.
“Don’t be surprised if there are changes again on Sunday week.”
“We’ll be looking at Sunday’s game and no further and once we get over that we will be looking ahead to the Kerry game the following week in Croke Park.
“It is one step at a time, one game at a time.
“Kerry are a good side. There is a lot of chat in the media and a lot of guys talking in the last week to ten days about Donegal being serious challengers.
“We are not listening to any of that nonsense. We have won Ulster for a second time and we have to move it to the next level now. We are still far from the finished article and we still have a lot of work to do and we will continue to do.”
This is a new look Donegal. They played in Division Two of the league last season and won promotion back to the top division.
“Naturally enough you want to be in the top division playing all the top teams. But there are serious teams in Division Two also and we will not be taking Meath for granted.”
Donegal go into Sunday’s game as the hot favourites and since their Ulster final win over Cavan, they have been elevated to second favourites behind reigning champions Dublin, for All-Ireland honours..
“That is out of our control. All we can do is control what is in our group and that is all we can do. Yeah, it is out there in social media and in the press,” said Bonner, who felt it was nonsense as far as he was concerned.
The favouritism stems from their easy passage through Ulster with comfortable wins over Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan. They had five points to spare at the end of their first round meeting with Fermanagh and were four points better off than Tyrone following the Ulster semi-final.
And they were five point winners over Cavan in the Ulster final.
“We can only play what is in front of us and yes there are tougher challenges coming down the line and there are going to be stiffer tests and stiffer challenges and we’ve got to be prepared for those challenges.”
Meath, on Sunday, in MacCumhaill Park is the first of those challenges and it is a challenge Donegal should be more than capable of overcoming.
But the real challenges are Kerry in Croke Park, and Mayo in Castlebar. These are challenges and games, on form, Donegal playing their A game for 70 plus minutes are capable of winning. But it will have to be their A game and for the whole game.