BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JIM McGuinness and Declan Bonner will attempt to be the lion tamers as they look to guide Donegal to All-Ireland semi-final wins over Dublin.
Never before has Donegal had two teams in the semi-finals and Donegal has never contested an All-Ireland minor final.
The all-singing, swashbuckling Dubs – the so-called juggernaut – stands between Donegal and a place in history. Croke Park should be heaving to capacity on Sunday by the time Joe McQuillan presses the button on his wristwatch at 3.30pm.
Two games against the metropolitans in their own back yard await, but both McGuinness and Bonner have a confident air about them.
“I don’t want to be associated with being a gallant loser,” McGuinness says.
“I know there is a sense here with certain people in Donegal that they wouldn’t like to see us going up there and getting demoralised, like what happened last season.
“If that’s the height of our expectations then there is no point going to Dublin. From my point of view, any game I’ve ever been involved in I’ve felt we could win the game. We go to Croke Park believing we can win the game. The players have been absolutely excellent. Everything we’ve asked off them, they’ve done.
“We will look to come up with a gameplan that will get us over the line.
“We’re 70 minutes from an All-Ireland final and we’ll do everything we can to be in that final. That’s the approach we take to the game.”
It is unlikely that Sunday’s game will be a rip-roaring classic like last weekend’s drawn clash of Mayo and Kerry.
Three years ago, these teams clashed in a semi-final that is as infamous as it is famous. With fourteen men behind the ball, Donegal frustrated the Dubs, angered Hill 16 and almost broke the resistance. Dublin ultimately prevailed, 0-8 to 0-6, but it was a day when Donegal almost snatched the prize.
Dublin have beaten all before them this summer with Laois, Wexford, Meath and Monaghan all chewed up by the big blue machine.
Donegal, All-Ireland champions two years ago and winners of three of the last four Ulster Championships, are rated as 7/1 outsiders.
McGuinness says: “The bottom line is that the odds are there for a reason. Dublin have done everything that has been asked of them, met every challenge they’ve faced. It remains to be seen if we can represent the sort of challenge it will take to beat them. Until that happens the odds are what they are.
“They reached a level in their own province against sides that played a similar system to themselves. They met an Ulster side in the All-Ireland series and it was the same result, same scoreline and same difference. For that reason, they’re entitled to be the odds that they are.
“When you’re involved in management you’re watching teams all the time. We know what is ahead of us. We know what they’ll bring to the table. They’re a getting a huge amount of shots off. They’re relentless in terms of their approach. They ask serious questions of sides.
“They are very fit, strong and well organised. Their system and their development is well down the track. They’re where they want to be.
You can see the patterns and the support play and it’s very impressive.”
McGuinness and Bonner have the same winning mentality. Neither settles for second best and neither will take a pat on the back on Sunday evening if their side has been handed their coats and asked to leave the Championship by Dublin.
Both were members of the Donegal panel that topped the red-hot Dubs in 1992. On McGuinness’s backroom team is Donal Reid, wing-back in ‘92 and now a physical therapist, while Gary Walsh is Bonner’s goalkeeping coach. Damian Diver, Paul McGonigle and John Duffy were part of ‘nearly’ Donegal teams and were recruited to McGuinness’s backroom team last autumn.
Bonner talked all winter about how he was targeting an Ulster title for his minors. They delivered.
In three seasons from Under-16 and Under-17, now to minor level, this group hasn’t lost a Championship fixture. Bonner believes his side can go the distance. Bonner says: “Dublin go into the game as favourites, but we’re going up there looking for a performance, and if we get that performance, I have no doubt we’ll reach the All-Ireland final.”
As they ready themselves for entry into the lion’s den, observes and experts alike have Donegal’s toes tagged for the Championship mortuary.
However, McGuinness and Bonner have the minds fixed towards September’s third Sunday and around 30,000 Donegal fans are expected to turn the stiles this weekend.
It’s a day not to be missed.