DONEGAL will bid to qualify for their fourth successive Ulster Under 21 Final tonight, when they face Tyrone in Celtic Park, Derry at 8pm.
Maxi Curran led the county past the tricky last four stage in each of the last three seasons, although his teams failed to claim the silverware at stake.
Declan Bonner has taken over the reins this year, and has targeted provincial success.
His understrength team were fortunate to get past Derry at the quarter-finals, and they will need to improve considerably if they are to reach the decider.
Donegal led by 0-9 to 0-3 at half-time in their encounter with Derry two weeks ago, but goals from Niall Loughlin and Ruairi McElwee pegged them back.
Bonner’s charges had to dig deep and they managed to claw their way back into contention, before Stephen McBrearty’s late free saw them progress to the next round.
“We watched it back and we played well for long periods of the game,” said Bonner.
“We gave away two bad goals midway through the second half and that put us under a lot of pressure.
“To be fair even when Derry were coming into the game, we still had opportunities and didn’t kill them off.
“But listen, we showed good character to come back and win the game.
“We know we need to improve defensively. In the five or six games we had played before the Derry match, we hadn’t been conceding goals.
“It was disappointing that we gave away two against Derry, and the second one in particular was a calamity of errors. We won’t get away with that again.”
Donegal looked excellent during the first half of that game with Derry and yet in the second period, they were quite ordinary at times.
The team lost its shape for a period after the break, especially when Bonner brought on reinforcements, and that is something that the manager is keen to address, as he may require all 21 players allowed to pull off his team’s game plan.
“Maybe the substitutions had an effect on the game, and we did lose our shape for a period.
“Eamonn McGrath picked up a yellow card, and we decided to take him off, rather than risk going down to 14 men.
“Christian (Bonner) came off, but he had a very demanding job to do. We ask a lot of our wide men and they tire, and we have ready replacements to go in.
“Collectively, we played well as a team, but individual errors almost cost us.
“It would have been harsh on us if we lost, but championship football is brutal and anything can happen.”
Tyrone defeated Donegal in the Ulster Final by a point last year, before going on to clinch the All-Ireland crown.
Feargal Logan is back in charge of the Red Hands, while Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan are once again part of his backroom team.
Bonner acknowledges that his team have a huge assignment in front of them.
“Tyrone are defending Ulster and All-Ireland champions, and they are one of the favourites to win the Ulster Under 21 Championship this year.
“They are favourites to win again on Wednesday night, and they will probably have five or six of last year’s team starting the match.
“It’s a huge challenge for us, but we’re all really looking forward to it.”
Tyrone have already captured the Shamrock Cup this year, and Logan will be able to call upon some key players from last year.
“Sean Fox has played a few games for the Tyrone senior team, as have Cathal McShane and Lee Brennan,” said Bonner.
“Mark Kavanagh and their captain Frank Burns are there from last year as well.
“They are all really good players and we will have to perform for the full 60 minutes to be in with a chance of beating them.”
Ciara Hegarty – a current All-Star – believes that Donegal are capable of building up a head of steam...