Kevin Cassidy

KEVIN CASSIDY: An early litmus test for Donegal

BASED on the games that we have seen to date, I don’t think this year’s National Football League has fully caught fire yet.

Having said that, it does continue to throw us up blockbusters on a weekly basis.

As I glance through the fixtures this weekend, the ones to catch my eye are undoubtedly the clash of old rivals Dublin and Kerry and then the top of the table clash in Division Two where Donegal travel to Armagh.

Given the history and tradition attached to the Dublin and Kerry fixture, I’m not sure what it is, but no matter what time of the year this fixture is played at it always seems to serve up a classic.

Kerry are motoring well at the minute and with the Cliffords returning to the starting 15 last weekend, they’re nearly at full tilt as they start to shift through the gears.

Dublin, on the other hand, have experimented heavily in the opening part of the season, but a much-needed win last weekend sets this one up nicely.

The two heavy hitters at the top of Division Two cross paths at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Sunday and this one should have fireworks.

Both teams are playing particularly well and both will have serious ambitions later on in the year so in some aspects, this test comes at the perfect time for both camps.

Donegal have made an impressive start under Jim McGuinness and they are improving week on week.

I spoke a few weeks back about Jim being smart enough to know that they will have to play like the bigger teams in terms of his high press and high octane approach to attack, and this has been working well for him so far.

In the first half last week against Fermanagh, they didn’t press as high as they did in the first two games. In truth, they were quite poor in the first half, but when they switched tactics at half-time and put pressure on the ball further up the field, they looked more dangerous and ran out comfortable winners.

This weekend, however, they will come up against a team who are a little smarter on the ball so putting pressure on further up the field will carry its own risks.

I think that when Jim and his backroom team sat down at the start of the year, this is a fixture that they would have earmarked. Not as one they needed to win but simply to see how their progression is going.

Armagh have been up there with the big teams over the last number of years and any time you play them at home it’s always a tricky encounter.

Bearing all of that in mind, if Donegal can turn in an impressive performance this weekend, I think Jim will be happy, no matter who takes the two points.

The way the earlier rounds have gone and the way the remaining fixtures are falling, it looks as if these two teams will make the return to Division One next year. Based on form to date, it’s hard to argue that these two teams are probably best equipped to move up a division.

Perhaps the two teams with the most pressure on them this weekend are Cork and Kildare. Both of these teams are rooted to the bottom of Division Two, so a win is needed for both to try and get their season back on track.

Things just don’t seem to be clicking in both of those counties, but all is not lost because a win or two at this stage of the season can change the whole thing around.

I think it shocks us when one of the big counties are struggling but that’s just the reality of where we are at the minute in terms of the commitment to play at this level. Perhaps lads are just not wanting to do it, perhaps they just want to do other things and that is a worry particularly if you are from a big county like Cork or Kildare.

I am not privy to what is going on with both of those camps, but when you look at the knowledge and experience of men that they have involved in each county, in terms of managers and coaches, then you would think that things would be flowing a little more freely in terms of performance on the pitch. Like I said, this is a massive weekend for both of those counties.

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