BY CHRIS MCNULTY
SUCCESS, the great American race car driver Bobby Unser once said, is where preparation and opportunity meet.
Jim McGuinness, since masterminding Donegal’s win over Derry last month, has been upping the ante with his squad ahead of Sunday’s Ulster semi-final against Antrim in Clones (2pm).
The injuries have cleared up with Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney and Rory Kavanagh (who is back from a suspension) having returned to full training in the last week. After a training camp in Inishowen over the weekend no fresh injury concerns were reported.
The game presents Donegal with the chance to reach a fourth successive Ulster final, something achieved only once previously – in the halcyon days of five finals in a row between 1989 and 1993.
“The prize here is massive,” said McGuinness.
“I feel that we have to go to a new level again. We have to find another level. We have been doing a lot of work in training and we’d like to think that we’ll see that come to fruition against Antrim. That is where our focus is at and the Ulster final is a day that we all want to be involved in.
“It’s a massive chance to get to a final. There are a lot of players pushing hard and there are places up for grabs.”
In particular, Kavanagh, Gallagher and McElhinney are vying to be included in the starting line-up again with McGuinness having a real dilemma.
Kavanagh, up to his red card in the Division 2 final against Monaghan, had been Donegal’s best player in 2014 and is likely to be included.
McGuinness had been guarding against complacency creeping under the door of the Tír Chonaill dressing room.
“Listen, this is the same as any other game,” he said.
“Any team in this Championship can beat any other. We will focus on our own preparation. We will try to bring a performance level that we haven’t got yet this year. We will need that. We have to improve.”
In Antrim, a hamstring injury to Michael Armstrong appears to be the only concern for Liam Bradley. The Antrim boss insists his men aren’t going up the Clones Hill for the view. He said: “Donegal are three or four rungs up the ladder from Fermanagh but we are not afraid of them.
Antrim scored a first Ulster SFC win in five years when, after being ahead by eleven at one point, they survived a late scare and needed a goal-line block by Kevin O’Boyle to win 2-18 to 3-13.
“The lines are so fine,” said the Donegal captain, Michael Murphy.
“People like to tier teams, but that doesn’t happen. In Ulster the gaps are getting smaller. That’s because teams are all so well prepared now.
“No matter who we play, we do the same things. The challenge for us every day we go out is to meet our own performance goals.”
Donegal minor manager Declan Bonner is another hoping to marry preparation and opportunity when his side take on Antrim in their semi-final at 12noon. Cian Mulligan and Gavin McBride (hip and thigh injuries) are doubts, but Bonner is hopeful on their participation.
He said: “It won’t be easy, but the chance is here now. Donegal doesn’t get to too many minor finals so the opportunity is huge for these lads.”