BY DÁIRE BONNAR
DONEGAL manager Aidan O’Rourke believes that there isn’t a team in Ulster that he would be afraid of meeting in the championship.
O’Rourke will take charge of his first championship game this Sunday as Donegal travel to Páirc Esler in Newry to take on Down in the Ulster quarter-finals.
And since taking over after Paddy Carr left his role in March, he is confident of getting a performance out of the team and he believes we haven’t yet seen them perform to their best.
“I think there’s huge potential in the group. For a number of reasons they haven’t met that yet,” O’Rourke said at Donegal’s press day.
“There’s quite a few fellas in the squad only bedding in and realising their own potential and there’s another couple on the fringe that if they had a National League campaign they could bring a lot to this championship.
“Then there’s a lot of experienced footballers too and a lot of quality.
“The next month is the Ulster Championship, that’s the total focus and there isn’t a team in the Ulster Championship that we would be afraid of.
Donegal have a great record in the first round of the Ulster Championship, not losing an opening game since 2010. However that loss came against Sunday’s opponents, who O’Rourke appreciates are on the up with their u-20s in the Ulster final.
“I have the height of respect for Down football, there’s enough good players in every county to challenge at the top and it’s just about harnessing that and pushing in the right direction and Conor (Laverty) has done a great job with focusing minds and getting everybody to buy in.
“The u-20s is a great job for them, they’re on the crest of a wave at the moment and they were very unlucky not to get out of Division Three, they put in some great performances in the league.
“There’s a lot of positivity in Down at the moment and a lot of potential and it’s a matter of us meeting that and matching it.”
O’Rourke addressed the media on Tuesday evening, confirming duo Oisin Gallen and Peadar Mogan haven’t recovered from their injuries against Mayo and this weekend will come too soon for them.
O’Rourke also confirmed that the quarter-final game will come much too soon for Donegal captain Patrick McBrearty but he is confident he would be ready for the All-Ireland stage should Donegal be involved.
“Oisin got hurt in the Mayo game and we’ve been trying to get him ready fopr the championship but this weekend might come too early for him, he hasn’t been on the pitch yet at all and we want to be careful with him because of his injury history.
“Peadar also got injured against Mayo and hasn’t trained since and he won’t be available this weekend. He can play in a lot of positions and increases your options everywhere, so Peadar is a good loss.
“(McBrearty’s) is a funny injury because of the nature of it, it’s hard to predict but Patrick assures me he’s a quick healer and he’s getting there.”
A number of players haven’t returned to the Donegal panel, such as St Eunan’s pair Niall and Shane O’Donnell, and Naomh Columba man Aaron Doherty.
But O’Rourke has said that the door has been open for players to return.
And one positive for Donegal is the return of Eoghan McGettigan, with the Naomh Conaill man not playing in 2022 due to an ACL injury, but he had started the All-County League campaign well for the Glenties men.
“His club form is very good and he has had a tough time with injuries over the last couple of years.
“But a player of Eoghan’s quality who can add to the squad, it was a no-brainer to ask him to come in and he has definitely added energy and quality.
“From the outset there’s always been an opportunity to get involved and people make those decisions on their own personal circumstances but we’re more than happy with the quality that’s in the squad.
“There’s a bit of head scratching settling on the starting 15 and the bench for the weekend so there’s more than enough good footballers in the squad.”