It may be only early January but there will be a an early almost championship feel to the visit of old rivals Fermanagh to Ballybofey in tonight’s Dr McKenna Cup clash in Ballybofey.
And while both bosses, Declan Bonner and Rory Gallagher of Fermanagh, are understandably playing down the significance of tonight’s clash, there is no doubt but that neither side will want to lose.
This will be Killybegs resident Gallagher’s first visit back to Ballybofey, since he surprisingly called time on his tenure in charge of Donegal, less than ten months after he had been granted an extra three years in charge by the county board.
But Donegal’s dismal year in 2017 may have been a key factor to end an association that began in 2011 and ended in last year, with only one year out in 2014.
So there is very little that Rory Gallagher does not know about Donegal and its set up, and he was a huge part of their major achievements according to the talismanic Michael Murphy.
Tonight the feisty ex-Fermanagh star will be pitted against the equally feisty and passionate Declan Bonner who knows these young charges even better than Gallagher, having watched them progress from u-17 level.
Donegal is definitely in transition with so many stellar figures departed.
But Bonner is very keen on winning as many matches as he possibly can while, at the same time, assessing the young talent available to him.
Fermanagh have nowhere near Donegal’s resources so they will be fielding a much more experienced selection than Bonner and Co.
Eoin Donnelly, Ryan Jones, Sean Quigley, Ruairi Corrigan, Barry Mulrone, Conal Jones, Ryan Lyons, Aidan Breen and the McCusker Bros are all regulars on the Erne squad.
And last Sunday they welcomed back the great mercurial one Seamie Quigley who has not featured in three years.
The charismatic elder brother of Sean Quigley is a bulkier version of Frank McGuigan, but his free spirit has often landed him in trouble in the past.
But he showed he has lost none of his chutzpah by bouncing from the bench and converting a crucial controversial penalty to see his side through by a point against a QUB side that Bonner’s young men easily dispensed with last Wednesday night in Ballybofey.
Fermanagh now have two wins to their name while Donegal’s game with Monaghan was postponed due to a frozen field in Clones last Sunday.
So it will be all to play for tonight under lights in Ballybofey.
Bonner has been struck a bit of a blow already with in-form full-forward Michael Langan looking likely to be sidelined for around a month with a suspected stomach injury.
And the impressive Cian Mulligan is also out with a quad injury and might not be back until the middle of the NFL.
In their absence, Darach “Jigger” O’Connor, Jamie Brennan and Stephen McBrearty will be asked to take on leadership roles. The new midfield pairing of recently selected McKenna Cup captain Hugh McFadden and Dublin-based Nathan Mullins looks fairly steady while Eamon Doherty and Caolan Ward will be anchoring the defence.
But Bonner can also tall on some pretty tall and capable performers like Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Tony McClenaghan, Caolan McGonagle, Michael Carroll and Stephen McMenamin to give Donegal some real extra physical presence against Fermanagh.
And it also looks like Odhran MacNiallais will also be back in action for Tir Chonaill.
Even though Fermanagh have four points on the board, they still could not afford to lose to Donegal as Bonner’s men presently have a nine points scoring difference advantage.
So Rory Gallagher and Co will come to Ballybofey gunning for victory in a bid to get more game time.
Even if Donegal loses they will still have a final chance of redemption as they face Monaghan in the postponed match in Clones on Sunday.
Unfortunately the winners of this section will be meeting a rampant Tyrone so finishing second in this Group might actually be the smarter move in order to build some real momentum.
But neither side will be thinking of defeat under lights tonight in Ballybofey.
And it could be a cracker with a hesitant vote given to Donegal to edge through by a few points.
But then you never know what the talented but most mercurial Seamie Quigley might have in store for Tir Chonaill!
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