BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT MAY well be eight months away, but already Jim McGuinness can say with a fair degree of certainty that next year’s Ulster Championship clash with Derry will be ‘one of them games to savour’.
McGuinness was speaking after Donegal were paired with their old rivals from Derry in a quarter-final that has been pencilled in for Celtic Park.
Derry and Donegal have enjoyed some storied clashes in the past: Think of the 1992 and 1993 Ulster finals; or there was Joe Brolly’s kisses after his late goal to deny Declan Bonner in 1998; and, more recently, Donegal defeated Derry in the 2011 final and the 2012 quarter-final.
“I’m sure it will be one of of them occasions and one everyone will be looking forward to,” McGuinness said.
“It’s a very tough first round for us. Derry are always tough opposition.
“It is going to be very difficult in Celtic Park. I’d say it will be a fantastic atmosphere, similar to the game against Tyrone this year.
“Derry will be in Division 1 next year, which will be good for them.
“It’s a local derby and most people in Donegal would be in Derry in half an hour or 45 minutes.
“It’s one of them games to savour.”
Donegal have been given a short away trip to Celtic Park and a reunion with former Tir Chonaill boss Brian McIver, who has the reigns of the Sperrins.
Overall, the draw has been fairly kind to Donegal.
Although a tricky assignment at the compact Celtic Park is in store, Donegal have avoided the preliminary round while the other side of the draw contains Monaghan, Tyrone and Down – Donegal’s three opponents from the 2013 Ulster SFC.
McGuinness, who negotiated preliminary round games against Antrim in 2011 and Cavan in 2012 said: “The big one for me was the preliminary round. We have been in it twice so it’s good to avoid that.
“This gives us an opportunity to prepare really well.
“Around the 20th of May we would normally start getting everyone back home. They’ll be well wrapped up by the time the game comes around.”
Dates and times will be confirmed by the Ulster Council in due course, though it seems likely that Donegal will take on Derry on either June 1 or June 8.
2014 will be the first time since 2005 that Donegal will not play an Ulster SFC game in Ballybofey, with the previous eight years seeing a provincial Championship tie held at Sean MacCumhaill Park.
McGuinness has wasted no time in laying the foundations for 2014 already.
He has added Damian Diver, Paul McGonigle and John Duffy to his backroom, while an extended panel met last weekend and included Ciaran Bonner, Leon Thompson, Christy Toye, Conor Classon, Antoin McFadden, Thomas McKinley, Stephen McLaughlin, Hugh McFadden, and Darach O’Connor.
McGuinness met his medical team on Saturday and, over the next couple of weeks, will tick the boxes on fitness tests, cardiac screening and getting his players flu’ jabs.
He said: “We want to get them on programmes so that they’re getting a pre-pre-season, which means they aren’t coming in and getting caught cold.
“There has been a lot going on. It’s like a fresh start and it’s nearly time to press the button again, like in 2011.”
2014 ULSTER SFC DRAW
Tyrone v Down
Fermanagh v Antrim
Derry v Donegal
Armagh v Cavan
Monaghan v Tyrone/Down
Fermanagh/Antrim v Derry v Donegal
Armagh/Cavan v Monaghan/Tyrone or Down