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Full-strength Donegal has McGuinness ‘managing a team’ again

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BY CHRIS MCNULTY

DONEGAL are on course to report a clean bill of health for Sunday’s Ulster SFC final against Monaghan (St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 4pm).

Jim McGuinness looks set to have quite a selection dilemma on his hands, but you won’t hear the Donegal manager complaining.

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Rory Kavanagh is back in contention for a first Championship appearance of the campaign. Suspended for the Derry game and injured (abductor muscle) for the semi-final win over Antrim, the St Eunan’s man is back in full training again.

Neil Gallagher (hamstring), Odhrán MacNiallais (ankle) and Darach O’Connor (hamstring) have had knocks since the semi-final win, but after a weekend training camp in Leitrim the squad’s medical team were reported to have been ‘very happy with everyone’s progress’.

As they prepare to face a Monaghan side that dethroned them as Ulster kings twelve month ago, Donegal are in a much better place now than in 2013 when a patched-up and tired team headed for Clones.

“I’ve always said it was more like managing a situation than a team,” McGuinness said.

“You were trying to navigate through, while at the moment it feels like we’re preparing a team for a match. That’s what I like about it at the moment.

“It can’t guarantee anything but it’s a good place to be in terms of preparation. They’ve a hell of a lot of work done since the turn of the year and particularly in the last 10 weeks.”

Monaghan roared to a convincing 0-13 to 0-7 win in last year’s final and, while there is no talk of revenge for Donegal, they head into their fourth Ulster final in succession on a mission to reclaim a hold of the Anglo-Celt’s handles.

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McGuinness said: “There’s a sense of hurt cause we lost to Monaghan, but it’s nothing to do with Monaghan now – it’s to do with us trying to retain a title. It’s about a game of football and a game of football we want to win.

“Hopefully we can go out and deliver a performance worthy of the occasion.”

McGuinness himself was on losing Donegal panels for the finals in 1993, 1998 and 2002. It is not a feeling he wishes his players to feel again.

He said: “If you only play in one Ulster final in your life, the shock of losing that is horrendous.

“The losing dressing room in Clones is not a place you want to be. We have do all in our power to make sure we’re not in it this year.”

For the first time since 2006, both the Donegal senior and minor teams will contest the Ulster finals.

Declan Bonner’s minors face Armagh in the curtain-raiser (throw-in 2pm). Moville’s Tony McClenaghan is Bonner’s biggest concern as he nurses an Achilles injury, but he hopes to have the centre-back in training on Tuesday night, while Niall Harley, Ciaran Gillespie and Cian Mulligan have recovered from their respective knocks.

Bonner said: “We will go out with the belief that if we get our performance to the level that I want then we can win the Ulster title.”

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