Fermanagh can give Donegal a real test
Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30
My No 1 wish for this weekend is that we finally get some competitive games which offer a decent standard of football and where the outcome is in the balance right to the end. Am I asking for too much? Probably.
The raging battlefield that was Ulster football - as I knew it anyway - has faded and looks like it has been replaced by a pair of jealous doves hen-pecking each other.
We've had four games in the province to date, and the average winning margin is 11 points. The closest game so far saw 'favourites' Fermanagh beat Antrim by six points, and now the shoe is on the other foot as Pete McGrath's men go in as underdogs against Donegal.
Many people see Donegal as genuine All-Ireland contenders, and winning Ulster has to be part of the plan, so in a way this is an ideal opener for them.
Fermanagh are a team on the up who show all the benefits of learning from a wily old fox like McGrath. They play with a sense of purpose, are never wanting when it comes to effort and in Tomás Corrigan and Sean Quigley they possess reliable forwards who pose a real scoring threat.
Against that, Donegal have a manager who probably knows what the Fermanagh players have been eating for breakfast all week. Rory Gallagher spent many years leading the Fermanagh frontline, and as well as making sure that space is at a premium for Corrigan and Quigley, the Donegal boss will be out to limit Eoin Donnelly's influence at midfield.
Last year, an ageing Donegal team peaked too soon and had little in the locker by the time they got to Croke Park. I fancy what Gallagher will be looking for is to see some of the younger brigade like Paddy and Stephen McBrearty, Hugh McFadden, Ciaran Thompson and Ryan McHugh step up to the plate and start showing some leadership.
In terms of tactics and shape, I don't think we will see anything different from Donegal. They will adopt their running game, get players behind the ball and try to hit their opponents with a series of counter-attacks.
There are rumours that Michael Murphy is struggling with injury and it will be interesting to see how his team-mates react if forced to start without their talisman. Irrespective of his well-being, I believe Fermanagh will make them fight for this one.