Tony Boyle tells Donegal to remember they are still champions
JIM McGuinness is facing the biggest test of his managerial career to have his players mentally tuned in for Saturday's qualifier clash with Laois, but can expect to get a winning response from a squad who are hurting badly after Sunday's Ulster final defeat by Monaghan.
That's the view of former Donegal star Tony Boyle, who believes that being All-Ireland champions will play a huge role in re-energising the team for what is now their most crucial game of the year so far.
"It's brand new territory. Lads woke up on Monday morning, having lost an Ulster championship game for the first time since 2010.
"The big thing is though, that while they are no longer Ulster champions, they are still All-Ireland champions.
"They badly wanted to win the Ulster three-in-a-row, but the All-Ireland is an even bigger target and it's still there for them," said Boyle.
He also believes that while beaten provincial finalists have a poor record in Round 4 qualifiers after a six-day turnaround, Donegal are mentally strong enough to work their way through the challenge.
"There's no doubt about their physical fitness and while they looked a bit tired mentally last Sunday, the thought of losing the Ulster and All-Ireland titles in the space of six days would horrify them.
"Jim will be working very much on the lines of 'the Ulster title is gone, but we can still win the All-Ireland.' In fairness, it's a tough ask coming out so soon against a side like Laois who have three wins behind them, but I'm sure they will be ready for it," he said.
Boyle believes that with so much focus on Donegal's defeat, the quality of Monaghan's performance didn't get the attention it deserved.
"They were first class. I said earlier in the year that a team would have to score goals to beat Donegal, but Monaghan managed it without even getting one.
"Having said that, those five first-half points were as good as a goal or two when Monaghan weren't conceding at the other end."
Mark McHugh's absence will be a big blow to Donegal, but Boyle is convinced that the character in the Donegal squad will help to get their All-Ireland ambitions back on track on Saturday.
"It will be tough, but I would expect them to make it. And if they are in the All-Ireland quarter-final draw on Saturday night, I'd say Dublin, Kerry and Mayo would be very keen to avoid them."