No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: The real action gets underway…

CHAMPIONSHIP Sunday has arrived, and for our intercounty team, the real action is about to get underway.

The hard training, the challenge matches, and the league campaign will all be distant memories when they cross the white line on Sunday.

It will just be them and Fermanagh going toe-to-toe for a place in the Ulster Championship semi-final.

The Donegal team before their league match with Monaghan. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE

The Donegal team before their league match with Monaghan. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE

There will be butterflies in the stomach, hairs rising as Amhrán na bhFiann is sung, and there will be big championship hits when Maurice Deegan eventually throws in the ball.

June 12 is the date that has been pencilled into the diary since last October, and as a player, you’re just hoping that everything comes together and you give a true account of yourself.

It has been well documented that Donegal finished their league campaign on a bad run, but I don’t think that will have much of a bearing on Sunday’s game.

They were off the pace in those last couple of matches, but they have had two months now to get things right.

It perhaps hasn’t been the clear run that Rory Gallagher would have wanted with players picking up injuries and things like that, but with the exception of big Neil Gallagher and Michael Boyle, it looks like he will have a full hand to select from.

There have been question marks over the fitness of Michael Murphy and Karl Lacey, but the talk is that they are good to go and ready for battle.


Gallagher brought in some fresh blood this year and the Donegal panel does look stronger than it did in 2015.

I saw a team picture of the full squad this week, and first and foremost, there will be big competition to just make the matchday panel of 26.

Then, you have the task of selecting the team itself and there will be some disappointed faces when it is read out, there is no doubt about that.

From the outside, we can look at things and say well this player always produces it on the big day, or this man could provide that extra spark the team needs.

However from my own experiences, I know that it is only the people involved in the team’s circle that will really know the score.

They will know who has gone well in the behind-closed-door challenge matches, or who is flying in training, and they will also know who is struggling to get to championship pace.

I expect Donegal to go with three big men in the middle of the field and there are probably four candidates pushing for inclusion.

Rory Kavanagh has returned to the fold this year, and he wouldn’t have been invited back in if the management didn’t feel he had a lot to offer.

MacNiallais has been a regular in Gallagher’s tenure, and I know Martin McElhinney has been flying at the moment, and I would expect him to start.

I’ve seen Hugh McFadden in a couple of club matches this year and he has really caught my eye.

He plays a different role for Donegal as he drops back to sit in front of the full-back line, and that extra protection could be needed.

It won’t be an easy decision for Rory Gallagher, but having a few team selection headaches is certainly no harm.

Another one is who to play in goals. Paul Durcan is not available and with Michael Boyle not fit, it will be between Mark Anthony McGinley and Peter Boyle.

They are both good shot-stoppers and capable goalkeepers, but I think Mark Anthony will be given the nod and he will relish the chance to impress in front of the big crowd.

Leo McLoone is back for the start for the championship this year, and he will be pushing for a start, as will the likes of Eoin and Mark McHugh.

Eoin McHugh

Eoin McHugh

Colm McFadden hasn’t played an awful lot this year to date, but we all know what he can produce when he is in the mood, while his clubmate Christy Toye could make an impression as a substitute.

A couple of the lads I had at minor level have now stepped up into senior football, and I have no doubt they could do a job if required.

Kieran Gillespie has had a bit of trouble with injuries in the lead-up to the game, but he’s a tough boy, and no Fermanagh forward will get anything easy from him.

Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher is another promising youngster, and his pace could be a real addition to the team, while Stephen McBrearty has plenty of potential too.

I would imagine they will be there or thereabouts, but they will probably have to settle for spots on the bench.

Fermanagh have made a decent start to the season and they already have a championship victory under their belts.

They got the better of Antrim four weeks ago and in Pete McGrath, they have a really shrewd manager at the helm.

The Erne county drew with Galway and Tyrone during the league when they really needed points and that shows you what they can do.

Fermanagh have big men around the middle of the field in Ryan Jones and Eoin Donnelly, and we can’t afford to allow them to dictate affairs.

They also have a dangerous forward line, but I would have confidence that the Donegal defence will be able to handle them.

Donegal are red-hot favourites at 1/6 to win the match. The bookies rarely get it wrong, but those odds are certainly generous.

The game is in MacCumhaill Park and that is a big boost to Donegal. We have made the Ballybofey ground into a fortress and no side has beaten us there in championship football in six years.

Fermanagh will be tricky opponents, but I expect Donegal to have too much for them and to pull away in the final quarter.

The experience that Donegal have built up over the last five years is priceless, and I expect them to show the rest of Ulster that they are still one of the top teams in the Ulster.

It won’t be a classic, but Donegal should prevail by five or six points.

Anthony Molloy

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Lifford on Tuesday evening, but I would like to congratulate my old friend and teammate Anthony Molloy on receiving the Freedom of Donegal.

Molloy was a great captain and a great leader, and he is a wonderful ambassador for the county.

Congratulations to him, he is a very deserving recipient of the award.

Thomas Maguire

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Thomas Maguire last week.

Thomas was a great fella and he was a key part of the Donegal under 21 team that won the All-Ireland in 1987.

He went to America shortly after that, but he was always known as a proud Donegal man and a proud Ardara man.

I am sure the Donegal GAA fraternity join me in passing on my condolences to Thomas’ friends and family.

Ar dheis lamh Dé go raibh a anam.