THE SPORTING DIARY: Let the fun begin: Donegal to get off to winning start on Sunday

THE SPORTING DIARY: Let the fun begin: Donegal to get off to winning start on Sunday

The Super 8s are only in their second year, but rarely has there been so much excitement around Donegal's next game in the championship. The county's senior footballers have caught the imagination of their followers with a new and refreshing brand of attacking football this summer.

They have also caught the eye of neutrals with their wins over Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan and now they have three more big hurdles to cross in the coming weeks, beginning on Sunday at home to Meath in MacCumhaill Park.

They will have just this week to prepare for Meath (who narrowly overcame Clare in the round 4 qualifier on Sunday last), but while they would not admit it, their preparations would have also included Kerry in recent weeks and from Saturday evening last, Mayo, who again defied the odds and defeated Galway in their final round qualifier.

Again it will not be entertained inside the Donegal camp, but this coming Sunday's game has to be the easier part of the upcoming games. The new format of the Super 8s has given the provincial winners their first game at home and that is a welcome change.With Dublin on the other side of the draw, Roscommon have the unique distinction of playing Dublin at the neutral venue that is Croke Park!

Can Donegal reproduce the form that saw them dispose of Tyrone and Cavan by half-time in their last two games? Will they have learned to close out games better in the second half?

Those are just two of the questions being asked this week by the county's followers. While they never looked like losing, Donegal did not finish their last two games as comfortably as they should. In some ways that may have been a blessing in disguise. It has given the management something to work on over the last couple of weeks.

The Super 8s draw has been kind to Donegal. They will be expected to defeat Meath and get off to the perfect start. But then Kerry and Mayo will also expect to defeat The Royals. That is not to disrespect Meath, who gave Donegal all they wanted for an hour in the Allianz League Division Two final in Croke Park at the end of March. But for another tour de force from Michael Murphy and a superbly finished goal from Jamie Brennan, it could have been a different story.

While Meath have a few changes since then, Donegal have many more including the return of Patrick McBrearty (who will play his 100th game for Donegal on Sunday). I'm sure he will want to mark the occasion in a special way.

Declan Bonner has hinted that there may be a surprise or two in the selection for Sunday. He certainly did that for the Ulster final with the inclusion of Odhán McFadden Ferry for his senior intercounty debut. But many of us felt that McFadden Ferry should have been given game time during the end of the league, as we made a case for the defence - and who better to fill it that a member of the Defence Forces.

Will McFadden Ferry keep his place for Sunday? I, for one, would have him there every time. We have enough ball players in the team now; having someone that can do a marking job is just another part of the jigsaw.

Could there be more surprises? The only other left field selection at this stage would be the return of Kieran Gillespie of Gaoth Dobhair. He has been back training and was part of the celebrations on Ulster final day, but whether he is ready, only the backroom team could tell. It’s amazing how many people keep asking me about his health. Gillespie is very highly regarded and hopefully when he does return he will get a good run because he has had his share of bad luck in the injury department.

Or could young Eoghan McGettigan of Naomh Conaill be pushing for a starting place?

But no matter what team Declan Bonner selects for Sunday, they should have enough to get through.

It will be a special day for Patrick McBrearty, making his 100th appearance in a Donegal jersey. And he gets better with each year. It is a lovely early birthday present for the Kilcar man who missed out on the Super 8s last year.

My team: Shaun Patton; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin; Odhrán McFadden Ferry, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Ryan McHugh; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee; Ciaran Thompson, Leo McLoone, Michael Langan; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Jamie Brennan. Subs: Frank McGlynn, Eoin McHugh, Oisin Gallen, Dáire Ó Baoill, Paul Brennan and Niall O'Donnell.

Secretary suspension

News this week that county secretary Aideen Gillen along with Hearings' Committee member Dan Hartnett were to be hit with eight week suspensions was the most bizarre thing to have occurred in the GAA in Donegal in my time in this job. (And mind you there have been plenty of other weird happenings!)

To say that Ms Gillen and Mr Hartnett have been caught in crossfire is to put it mildly. That their names have been put forward for suspension is absolutely ridiculous. They were hardly acting as individuals when they put pen to paper to write letters in favour of someone getting a hearing at the GAA's Mercy Committee. And I'm quite sure they were doing so in good faith.

It again underlines the bizarre nature of justice in the GAA. How did the suspensions come about? Who was going so deep into this particular case that they became aware that letters from the pair were part of the appeal process? Who would give a damn?

There are players who commit serious crimes and get off scot free under appeal. If Ms Gillen or Mr Hartnett don't have the threat of suspension lifted, then the GAA should charge itself with bringing the game into disrepute.