Preview: Donegal well placed ahead of championship first

Al-Ireland SFC quarter-final
Donegal v Louth
Sunday, Croke Park, 1.15pm

By Michael McMullan

SUNDAY is new ground in HQ are Donegal and Louth cross swords in the championship for the first time.

It has been a whirlwind for Donegal. Last year brought doom and gloom of the county having their underage academy issues laid bare.

Paddy Carr was pushed out as senior manager. Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley steadied the ship until the return of Jim McGuinness.

Aside from their defeat in Cork, the level of hype has raced through the county. Clubs, players, officials, fans and sponsors are totally wired into planet Donegal.

If anything, going under in Páirc Uí Rinn diluted the chat of Sam Maguire enough for McGuinness to place the playing group back into the palm of his hand.

There is no shortage of colour attached to Louth’s first ever All-Ireland quarter-final spot. And they had their own crossroads.

When Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin left them in the lurch to take the Derry gig, there was a cloud over the Wee County’s progress.

Ger Brennan was installed as manager with experienced duo Niall Moyna and James McCartan coming on board as part of the ticket.

Rather than throwing out the bathwater, Brennan sounded out the players on the best approach. Much of the progress Harte and Devlin made was tapped into with a little bit of extra value.

Louth are an example for other counties to follow. Sam Mulroy is a majestic player but not their only big fish. Ciaran Lennon’s pace would grace any running game from deep.

Tommy Durnin and Devan Duffy are excellent ballers. Conor Grimes and Ryan Burns add scores to the overall package.

After being handed their backsides on a plate by Dublin last season, there was more about Louth this season to give the Dubs a proper test.

While they rode their luck at times against Cork, they came with a system of play that closed the back door and used the pace they had on the break.

When Jim McGuinness sat down to put his plans in place this week, he’ll have seen those runs of Craig Lennon in the same mould as the Cork runners that stung them in the group stages.

It’s hard to see Donegal going away from what has been positive. Brendan McCole will follow Mulroy where he goes. Caolan McGonagle will sit deep but it will be harder in Croke Park.

Whatever about the dimensions, it always seems to play more open. An illusion of sorts and place Louth Ger Brennan especially will know well.

On the flip side, it will be heaven for Shaun Patton if Donegal can leave the pockets for the St Eunan’s ‘keeper to pick with his kick-outs. One step, two step, ping and they are on the attack. It’s another area of focus for Louth.

Caolan McColgan (hamstring) and Jason McGee (groin) are the major concerns with Gavin Mulreaney expected to regain his place on the bench after missing with injury.

Hugh McFadden and Conor O’Donnell also both saw action in their win over Clare as Donegal get back close to full strength.

They’ve also the huge advantage of staying clear of last weekend’s mire of the preliminary quarter-finals.

McGee has had two full weeks to declare himself fit for Sunday. The facile nature of their win over Clare didn’t have the emotive charge that Louth win over Cork would’ve brought.

There is also the long grass factor of kicking up their heels while running their eyes over all eight contenders last weekend.

Having a game every two weeks allowed Donegal the chance to compartmentalise their season.

Promotion was key. Taking Derry down was an 182-day project. The Division Two title was a bonus.

Then came the consistent narrative from McGuinness that Ulster was the only show in town.

Hours after the Anglo Celt Cup returned to Donegal Town, the Donegal boss addressed hordes of fans telling them they’d get charged up for a shot at the next cup – Sam Maguire.

There are a few bends to negotiate yet. Defeat in Cork put their chance of top spot under pressure but they are now back on track.

Louth will have their say and will embrace Sunday but Donegal have the tools to book a semi-final spot.


Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15 – 2024 NFL
A GOAL in the 54th minute was the game changer in Ballyshannon as Donegal overcame Louth to remain unbeaten. The goal came from a long ball from Dáire Ó Baoill, finished to the net by Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí and it put a five-point gap between the teams, the most significant one during a very tight game.

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, C Moore, P Mogan; R McHugh, C McGonagle (0-1), Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí (1-0); Ciaran Thompson, M Langan (0-01); Shane O’Donnell (0-2), D Ó Baoill, O Doherty; P McBrearty (0-8,7f), O Gallen (0-4), J Brennan
Subs: A Doherty (0-1) for O Doherty, H McFadden for Brennan, L McGlynn for Ó Baoill, S McMenamin for Mac Ceallabhui, D Mac Giolla Bhríde for McGonagle

Louth: N McDonnell; D McKenny (0-1), D Campbell, P Lynch; L Grey, A Williams, C McKeever; C Early, T Durnin; P Mathews, C Keenan (0-1), C Grimes (0-2); R Burns (0-2), S Mulroy (0-8, 5f, 1m), T Jackson
Subs: L Jackson (0-1) for Mathews, K McElroy for Burns, S Marry for T Jackson, N Sharkey for Williams, J Hughes for Keenan

2024 Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15 – NFL
2014 Donegal 1-19 Louth 3-7 – NFL
2006 Louth 1-12 Donegal 1-9 – NFL final replay
2006 Donegal 0-17 Louth 3-8 – NFLfinal
2001 Donegal 3-13 Louth 1-11 – NFL


Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 4-14
Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6
Donegal 1-20 Cork 2-6
Cavan 0-12 Donegal 0-13
Donegal 2-16 Fermanagh 0-8
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15
Kildare 1-8 Donegal 0-17
Donegal 1-18 Meath 1-10
Donegal 0-15 Armagh 0-14
Donegal 4-11 Derry 0-16
Donegal 0-18 Tyrone 0-16
Donegal 0-20 Armagh 0-20 (6-5 on pens)
Donegal 0-21 Tyrone 0-14
Cork 3-9 Donegal 0-16
Donegal 2-23 Clare 0-5

Meath 2-13 Louth 1-7
Westmeath 0-12 Louth 2-12
Louth 1-18 Wicklow 2-10
Armagh 0-12 Louth 0-11
Louth 2-9 Cork 0-13
Meath 1-11 Louth 1-9
Louth 3-9 Cavan 2-13
Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15
Louth 6-17 Fermanagh 0-11
Kildare 0-12 Louth 1-12
Louth 4-10 Wexford 0-15
Kildare 0-13 Louth 0-17
Dublin 1-19 Louth 2-12
Louth 3-10 Meath 0-9
Monaghan 2-10 Louth 2-10
Kerry 2-21 Louth 1-10
Louth 1-9 Cork 1-8


Oisín Gallen 5-64 (27f, 2-0pens,
Patrick McBrearty 1-52 (32f)
Dáire Ó Baoill 4-14
Sam Mulroy 7-68 (52f, 3-0pens, 4 45, 2m)
Ryan Burns 2-20 (1f, 1 45)
Ciaran Downey 4-11
Conor Grimes 2-17 (1m)

• Check out our Gaelic Lives All-Ireland SFC quarter-final preview show with Éamonn Fitzmaurice on  Spotify. Link below.

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