By Michael McMullan
DONEGAL have spent just two years in the last decade outside the top flight and Sunday’s visit of Mayo poses an acid test of their survival chances this season.
Paddy Carr’s side have been a mixed bag. After a hot and cold opening to the league, the grit demonstrated when nothing was going right against Galway revealed a side with a united front.
The Armagh game was always going to be huge in the battle at the bottom and now Donegal’s fate is outside their own hands.
A final day visit to a Roscommon team coached by 2012 All-Ireland winner Mark McHugh looms on the horizon, but now it’s all about Mayo.
This time last year, Stephen Rochford was standing alongside Declan Bonner in the Donegal backroom team. Now, he’s back in Mayo who sit top of the table with a league final spot resting on their own levels of ambition ahead of a Connacht Championship where they find themselves on the heavy side.
It’s a glance across Mayo’s depth that has them heavily involved in the Sam Maguire conversation already.
Cillian O’Connor and Tommy Conroy are back in the mix, with Aidan O’Shea used as a targetman inside. It will be a test for a Donegal defensive trio of Brendan McCole, Mark Curran and Caolan McColgan who have all performed well so far this season.
Only Sean Jones and Dara Moynihan had raised green flags against Shaun Patton so far, but it’s Donegal’s scoring power at the other end that has been called into question. The main men in attack now are Conor O’Donnell, Oisin Gallen and Jamie Brennan, with Gallen’s penalty their only goal of the league to date.
All the signs point to a Mayo win, something they have remarkably never managed on Donegal soil.
The last three league meetings have ended level, something Donegal would take the arm off for on Sunday.