BY RYAN FERRY
Michael Murphy v Ger Cafferkey
Mayo will not have fond memories of Michael Murphy’s performance in last year’s All-Ireland final and they will be determined to curtail his influence this year.
Ger Cafferkey was the 2012 All-Star full-back, and has been excelling at number 3 for Mayo this season. He has struggled against Murphy in the past, but did a solid marking job on him in the league game in Castlebar in March.
Murphy has yet to hit top form for Donegal this summer, but he is a player who comes alive in Croke Park, and he will be aware of the need to win this duel. It should be a physical battle, and the player that comes out on top, will give his team a wonderful chance of progressing to the semi-finals.
Aidan O’Shea v Neil Gallagher
Rory Gallagher heralded Neil Gallagher as the best midfielder in Ireland, after the Laois game, and he has become one of the most integral players in the Donegal team.
He made several fine catches against the Moore County, and he will be happy to return to Croke Park, where last year, he delivered his best ever performances for Donegal.
Likewise, Aidan O’Shea is a pivotal player for Mayo, and he is one of the most powerful players in the country. O’Shea has a superb 2013 so far, collecting a Sigerson Cup medal with DIT and a Connacht senior championship medal.
Donegal won the midfield battle in last year’s final, and Gallagher will be hoping to dominate the middle sector once again.
Alan Freeman v Neil McGee
Alan Freeman first burst onto the scene in 2010, when he delivered excellent performances against Sligo and Longford in a dire championship for Mayo.
However, the following year, James Horn took over as manager, and Freeman found himself on the periphery of the starting XV.
He has got a chance this year, due to injuries in the Mayo forward line, and he has played like a man eager to show his worth to the manager.
Neil McGee struggled against Monaghan in the Ulster final, but he was back to his best against Laois last Saturday. He dominated Donie Kingston, and even came up to kick a point.
Freeman is a tall rangy player, and McGee will have a physical advantage over him. If the Gaoth Dobhair clubman can get on top, it was significantly diminish Mayo’s chances of scoring goals.
Paddy McBrearty v Keith Higgins
Paddy McBrearty stepped up and showed vital leadership in Carrick-on-Shannon last week, and Donegal will need another big game from the Kilcar youngster.McBrearty, who turns 20 this week, kicked three points against Laois and was the Donegal News man-of-the-match. He will not have it all his own way this weekend though, when he is picked up by one of the best man-markers in the game, Keith Higgins.
Higgins has exceptional pace and is regarded as one of the leaders of the Mayo team. He marked McBrearty in the All-Ireland final last year, and got the upper hand on the corner-forward, keeping him scoreless with McBrearty replaced in the 48th minute.
McBrearty will be gunning to make up for that disappointment on Sunday, and it should be a keenly contested clash between the pair.
Jim McGuinness v James Horan
The battle on the sideline could be just as important as anything that happens on the pitch. There is no love lost between the pair, and comments made by both managers during the week, will have raised the stakes even more.
Horan got the match-ups wrong last year, with Kevin Keane failing to get to grips with Michael Murphy.The tactical battle will be key on Sunday, as will the use of the substitutions.
Both sides have two of the more renowned assistant managers in the game as well with Rory Gallagher acting as Jim McGuinness’ number 2, while former Kerry trainer, Donie Buckley, is Horan’s deputy.
Neither manager will want to lose the game, and they will have devised gameplans to ensure their passage to the semi-finals.