Donegal are back in the groove and going in the right direction again as they head into Sunday’s showdown Clones showdown with Antrim.
That is the view of former Donegal player and mentor Mickey Lafferty. Mickey, who had a long and distinguished career as a player and mentor, was a member of the Donegal side that defeated Antrim, back in 1974, on their way to the Ulster final - the only other time the two counties have met at the semi-final stage.
And what ever about winning another All-Ireland title - though he wouldn’t rule it out - he definitely feels another Ulster championship is on the cards.
“Things are taking shape again after a disappointing season last year. We seem to be back somewhere near where we were in 2012. We still have a bit to go but we do seem to be going in the right direction again.
“All we need is for everybody to stay fit and well and avoid picking up any serious or long term injuries and to maintain our focus on the job in hand.
“I know there will be plenty of talk in the coming weeks about all who are missing and if we had this one and that we would do much better.
“My advice to the players is to ignore all that kind of talk and just keep their heads down and keep their focus.
“I feel as long as everybody stays fit and healthy we have a good squad of players. We have a squad of players good enough to win Ulster whatever about going on and winning an All-Ireland.
“But that is for another day. The Ulster championship is the main objective for now and we can talk about the All-Ireland and getting a run in the All-Ireland series once the Ulster championship is over.
“I know we have to play Antrim and Monaghan have to play Armagh, but it is shaping up like it is going to be a repeat of last year’s Ulster final, Donegal and Monaghan again.
“I expect us to beat Antrim on Sunday and I expect it will be handy enough and it would be a huge upset if they were to beat us.
“I know they came to Ballybofey and clipped our wings a few years ago. But things have moved on since a good bit for us and we are now a different animal and a much better outfit.
“Antrim, on the other hand, have gone back. After they beat us in 2009, they showed good promise and reached the Ulster final where they lost to Tyrone.
“But that was as good as it got for them which is a pity really because they are one team I would like to see doing well, obviously not this year.”
Like most observers of the game in Ulster, Mickey is puzzled as to why Antrim never seem to be able to cut the mustard in the championship or in the league for that matter. Divisions Three and Four of the league has been their lot for years.
“I really cannot figure Antrim out as to why they have never really been able to do well in the championship. They have had some really good footballers down the years and have had some really good club teams.
“Only a couple of years ago, St Gall’s won an All-Ireland club championship and before that St Paul’s were a match for most teams in Ulster and way back St John’s won an Ulster championship. But when it comes to county football they can never seem to get them to gel into a team.
“I know from my own playing days and in later years as a mentor coming up against good enough Antrim teams; they always seemed to have a couple of good forwards and decent enough midfielders. Their problem always seemed to be in defence and that is something that has been common in Antrim teams down the years.
“It seems to be a problem with them this year too. I know they beat Fermanagh in the first round and ran up a big score 2-18 - which is impressive shooting in a championship game - but they also conceded 3-13 and only won by a couple of points.”
It is due to Antrim’s over generous defence that Mickey hopes that Jim McGuinness will site Michael Murphy near to the Antrim posts and resist the temptation of drawing his skipper out the field in the course of the game.
“I don’t think there will be any need to bring Michael out the field on Sunday, especially now that Rory Kavanagh is available again.
“I certainly would leave him up front along with Colm McFadden. And if he is left there I think we could see a few goals, because I don’t think Antrim have the defence to hold himself and Colm for 70 minutes.
“I know Colm hasn’t been playing to his own high standard of recent years this season so far. But he is still a class player and still very capable of really punishing a team of he gets a half decent ball.
“I expect Donegal to win by at least six points and it could be even more. The two teams are just at different levels and other than a major disaster happening I cannot see any other result.”
Just like when Donegal and Antrim met in the semi-final of 1974, Donegal with Mickey Lafferty at midfield had 14 points to spare against Antrim, in that semi-final. Final score Donegal 5-9, Antrim 1-7.
“I don’t recall much from that game other than the late Seamus Bonner scored four goals that day and we won it handy enough.
“I think it was myself and Martin Carney at midfield and after that the only other thing I remember there was a row beforehand over the jerseys and we played in the Offaly colours, green, white and gold.
“We used to play in a yellow/saffron jersey and green togs at the time and they played in a saffron jersey with white togs. There was a handling about that beforehand and we ended up playing in the Offaly colours. I’m not sure where they came from. Brian McEniff came across them somewhere but I never asked him where he got them.”
It didn’t matter. Donegal went on to win the game pulling up and also overcame Down in the final (after a replay) to claim a second Ulster title.