EURO 2016 fever may have gripped the nation this week, but come Saturday, there will only be one place to be and that is Kingspan Breffni Park.
It’s a big double header with both our senior and minor teams facing Monaghan.
I’m sure the four respective managers would have been looking at this date since the draw was made back in mid-October.
You can’t take anything for granted, but Donegal were always fancied to have too much for Fermanagh and a struggling Down team were never going to have enough to really challenge Monaghan.
Donegal and Monaghan have had some cracking tussles in the league and championship over the last few years, and Malachy O’Rourke’s team have enjoyed the upper hand.
There’s nothing new in that as Monaghan have held the Indian sign over us for the best part of 30 years.
For as long as I can remember, going back to my own playing days, they never feared coming up against us.
The one difference this year is that the game takes place in Cavan and not Clones, and that is a boost.
Donegal have a good record in Breffni Park. I know some of the players lost the 2010 All-Ireland Final to Dublin there, but traditionally it was always a ground that served us well.
The absence of Neil McGee is huge and it’s not easy to fill the boots of a man of that stature.
There’s no doubt that Conor McManus is their key player and it will probably be Paddy McGrath who will be given the job of marking him.
I think we will have to possibly double up or at least ensure that there are plenty of bodies dropping back in to cover the space in front of McManus.
You simply cannot afford to leave a one-on-one situation, because McManus is deadly.
The pressure needs to be put on out the field as if Monaghan get quality ball inside, we will be in bother.
It will be interesting to see who Rory selects to play at corner-back instead of McGee.
Against Fermanagh, he moved Ryan McHugh back to pick up Ruairi Corrigan, and while the Kilcar man could play in any position, he is far too valuable as a ball carrier to be stuck back there.
From what I can gather, Karl Lacey hasn’t trained since the Fermanagh match, so he won’t be playing.
Information from the camp is light and we don’t know who is doing the business on the training ground, but personally if it was me, I would take a gamble on Kieran Gillespie.
He’s young but I have known him for four or five years now and I can assure you he won’t be daunted by a big crowd in Breffni Park.
If you look at the Monaghan set-up, Conor McCarthy is likely to play at corner-forward.
McCarthy was under 21 this year and if we had have met them in the Ulster Championship, we would have put Gillespie on him, and been confident that he would win his battle.
There will have been an awful lot of work put into video analysis over the last couple of weeks and both teams will feel that they are 100% ready once they leave the dressing rooms at 6.45pm on Saturday evening.
The one thing you would have to say about Malachy O’Rourke and his backroom team is that they rarely get their match-ups wrong.
Darren Hughes and Dessie Mone will be sent out to intimidate, while the Wylies (Drew and Ryan) are tight markers.
The big question for Donegal this week, is can we knock off those shackles and get on the front foot.
Michael Murphy has been subdued in his last couple of games against Monaghan and Odhrán MacNiallais barely got a touch in last year’s Ulster Final.
Ryan McAnespie will probably track Ryan McHugh, and if those Donegal players can win their respective duels, then they will win the match.
You’re going to go into the game without three leaders in Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, and Neil Gallagher, so it’s time for some of the younger players to step up.
It’s up to the likes of MacNiallais, Patrick McBrearty and Martin McElhinney to really push the team on now.
We have a relatively inexperienced referee in Ciaran Branagan taking charge, and there is going to be a big onus on him.
It’s going to be a physical game and there’s going to be a lot of stuff happening. The officials need to be right up with proceedings and they can’t let things get out of hand.
It’s going to be very tight, and it might just come down to which team has the rub of the green on the day.
I think things are going well for Donegal and I fancy them to get over the line by a very small margin this weekend.
The minor game between Donegal and Monaghan is going to be another close affair.
The sides had a really good battle in the league and we could be in for another cracker.
The word from Monaghan is that they think they have a really good minor side this year.
I think it will probably come down to a straight shootout between Niall O’Donnell and Eoghan McGettigan in the Donegal forward line, and Monaghan attackers Michael Bannigan and David Garland.
What’s going to sway it is which team gets the best supply of ball in, and to me, Donegal have a better midfield in Kieran Gallagher and Jason McGee.
Both lads are big, imposing characters and they can both win the ball in the air.
Niall O’Donnell is an exceptional player but he is going to come in for some rough treatment this week. He scored 13 points against Monaghan in the league and they won’t be giving him that kind of space on Saturday.
However, if we can get on top in midfield, I think we will create the openings to see us through to the Ulster Final.
This is a really tough stage of the competition, and the minor team I was in charge of got caught in the semis last season.
The Leaving Cert is very difficult to manage. You can do all the preparation in the world, but these lads are under pressure and they’re stressing out, and they’re not eating what they should or sleeping as much as they need to.
But if you can get over this weekend, the sky’s the limit then.
You have the group exactly where you want them, and they will all be totally focussed on GAA. You can really feel the momentum building then.
I presume it’s been a frustrating few weeks for Shaun Paul Barrett and his management team, but they will be giving the message to just do all you can to get over Saturday’s game.
We need the Donegal supporters to come in early and get behind the lads.
I remember the All-Ireland semi-final in 2014 and the lift we got that day from the fans helped us to beat Dublin.
That created a great atmosphere in the ground, and that worked to the seniors’ advantage too.
Hopefully the same happens again in Cavan, and it would be great to see a Donegal team back in the Ulster Minor Final.