DONEGAL will begin their Super 8s campaign against the reigning All-Ireland champions, Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Declan Bonner’s team targeted a spot in the new round-robin system at the start of the season, and achieved that goal when they won the Ulster title against Fermanagh three weeks ago.
Donegal face a gruelling assignment against a Dublin team that haven’t been defeated in championship fare since 2014, but Bonner says his outfit are in good shape and are eagerly awaiting this week’s test.
“These are the kind of matches that we wanted at the start. Back at the start of the season, we wanted the Ulster Championship and we wanted the Super 8s,” said the Na Rossa clubman.
“We achieved the Ulster Championship, but right away the focus started on the Super 8s and it’s Dublin first. There’s no bigger task, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Donegal will face Roscommon (away) and Tyrone (home) after Saturday’s match, with the top two in the group progressing to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It will be a tough four weeks ahead, and it’s made even more challenging by the fact that star forward Patrick McBrearty has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after tearing his cruciate.
Bonner said: “He’s one of the top forwards in the country so it’s a huge blow, there’s no doubt about it. We knew fairly early on the Monday after the Ulster final, that Patrick was gone.
“It’s a huge blow for Patrick and a huge blow for the whole squad. But someone will have to step in. It’s big boots to fill, no doubt, but someone else will get a chance.”
While the Kilcar man will certainly be missed at Headquarters this week, Donegal’s other injuries have cleared up ahead of the All-Ireland series.
Bonner said: “Everyone is available. Martin McElhinney is back in training. Nathan Mullins is back in training. Martin O’Reilly is back training.
“Everyone, bar Patrick, is training and we’re very happy with where the rest of the lads are at.”
Donegal County Board officials met with the GAA chiefs last week to query why Dublin were playing two games in Croke Park during the Super 8s.
However, Bonner says that his side have no issue with making the trip to Jones’ Road this Saturday.
“We have no problem going in and playing in Croke Park. That’s where all of the big games are going to be. It’s great to get in there to play Dublin in a championship game.
“This is something we were aiming at and hoping for at the start of the year so it’s great to be here now. We have a huge four weeks ahead of us now.”