Time is ticking on towards Sunday and our opening match in this year’s National League. After a year’s absence we’re back in Division One this season and our Round 1 game on Sunday is against Donegal.
With MacHale Park closed for pitch redevelopment works, it’s a home-from-home fixture at Sligo’s Markievicz Park, where throw-in is 1.45pm. The game will be broadcast live by TG4 and Cavan’s Noel Mooney is the ref for it.
Because of our absence from the League’s top tier last year, not to mention the Covid-induced truncated inter-county season, it’s been a while since we last played Sunday’s opponents. It’s two years, to be exact – we met them in the opening round of the 2020 League campaign where, on a madcap night in Ballybofey, James Durcan came off the bench to rescue a point for us from a match we look destined to lose.
If we count Sunday’s match as a home game, then the most recent time we hosted Donegal was that stirring Super 8s win-or-bust game at MacHale Park in August 2019. That was also Jason Doherty’s most recent game for the county, as a trailing Donegal leg caused the Burrishoole man to fall awkwardly, tearing his ACL. A second cruciate injury – on the other knee – did for him in 2020 but he’s available for selection once again on Sunday.
If we view Markievicz Park as a neutral venue, however, then the last time we played Donegal on neutral territory was back in 2015. That was at Croke Park, in the All-Ireland quarter-final, a match we won well in what was arguably the high point of the brief Pat and Noel era.
The year after that Donegal beat us in the League up in MacCumhaill Park but that’s the most recent time they’ve got the better of us. Indeed, despite the fact that we invariably look ahead to meetings with them with some trepidation, our recent record against the O’Donnell County is a very good one.
So, then, what have Donegal been up to of late? Let’s wind the clock back to 2020 and, starting with the Covid Championship that year, run through a quick review of their matches since then.
Most teams did well to get a match or two in that old-fashioned, one-slip-and-you’re-gone Championship of 2020. Donegal, though, got three – beating Tyrone in the quarter-final and seeing off Armagh in the semis before sensationally losing out to Cavan in the Anglo-Celt Cup decider.
In last year’s National League, they were in an Ulster mini-league, aka Division One North. In Round 1 they beat Tyrone by 0-18 to 0-16 in Healy Park in mid-May, a week later they drew 1-20 to 4-11 in a very un-Ulster shootout against Monaghan at Ballybofey and then the week after they drew again, this time 1-16 apiece with Armagh at the Athletic Grounds.
Those three results were good enough for Declan Bonner’s side to claim top spot in Division One North. In the Division One semi-final on 12th June, however, they lost out to Dublin at Breffni Park by 1-18 to 1-14.
Last year’s Championship was once again a straight knockout affair. Once again, Donegal got three outings, but this time they exited at the semi-final stage.
In the preliminary round in late June they walloped Down at Páirc Esler by 2-15 to 1-12. Two weeks later they barely squeezed by an extremely game Derry at Ballybofey, winning that one by 0-16 to 0-15. Michael Murphy’s early dismissal in the semi-final against Tyrone cost them dearly, as they went under to the eventual Sam Maguire winners at Brewster Park by 0-23 to 1-14.
That match was played on 18th July so Donegal had over five months off before getting back in action earlier this month. They have, though, seen plenty of pre-season action, in marked contrast to ourselves.
In all, Donegal have played four McKenna Cup games this month. In Round 1 of the group stage they beat Down by 1-13 to 2-8 at Ballybofey on 7th January and a week later they came away from Portglenone with a 0-15 to 1-9 win over Antrim. Three days later, back at Ballybofey, they beat Derry by 2-9 to 0-11 in the semi-final and last Saturday evening at Healy Park they lost narrowly to Monaghan in the final, on a scoreline of 1-11 to 0-13.
Although we’ve played challenge matches against Leitrim and Clare since losing that FBD semi-final against Galway in the Dome, there’s a suspicion that we may be coming in a bit undercooked into this one, not least given the four competitive matches Donegal have already played this month. But, then again, they looked well off the pace for a good bit of the McKenna Cup decider, although they did mount an impressive second half comeback.
In truth, it’s often difficult to predict which way matches will go in the League’s opening round. Which is why it’s time to throw the floor open to your good selves for a vote on it. So, then, how will we do under bare Ben Bulben’s head on Sunday?
How will we do against Donegal?
- Win (58%, 327 Votes)
- Lose (29%, 166 Votes)
- Draw (13%, 73 Votes)
Total Voters: 566