Right, whatever about Galway in May our immediate priority is our do-or-die NFL Division One Round 7 match against Donegal this coming Sunday. The game takes place at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey and, with the clocks going forward on Saturday night, throw-in is set for the later time of 3pm. Anthony Nolan of Wicklow has the whistle for this one.
For a county we only came up against in a competitive fixture for the very first time as recently as 1984 – we played them in an NFL Division II match at Ballyshannon in November that year, losing by 1-13 to 1-5 – Donegal are a county we’ve played a fair bit of ball against in the years since then. On that list, of course, is an All-Ireland final, a semi-final and two quarter-final meetings in the championship as well as regular enough clashes in the League.
Over the past decade we’ve met a total of seven times in Division One of the League (Donegal were absent from the top tier for three of those ten years) and the record over that period stands at two wins for us, two draws and three wins for them.
Our most recent meeting was, of course, last April when we squared off in the final round of last year’s League campaign. We weren’t 100% sure of staying up heading into that game (as events transpired, Roscommon’s win over Cavan sent the Breffni lads down regardless of how we got on) but we certainly played for a result that day and got one too, coming out on top at MacHale Park by 1-12 to 0-13.
Photo: Mayo Advertiser/Sportsfile
The last time we played them up there was in Sunday’s venue, MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, two years ago. We lost that game by two points – our third defeat in three outings in that League campaign – but, having led by three points early in the second half, there was a distinct feeling that day that we’d left the spoils behind us.
Maybe now’s as good a time as any to deal with this issue about our never having won a match against them played up there. The records do, indeed, confirm this is the case but it needs to be borne in mind that it is rather a small sample size. We’ve only ever played them in Donegal a total of seven times, drawing twice and losing the other five.
I was at the first of those draws, by the way, a game played back in 1985 in Ballyshannon. The match was on the October Bank Holiday Sunday and I’d taken a day off work the previous Friday so that I could be in the west to see the first pilgrimage flights to Rome taking off from Knock airport.
Then on the Sunday a few of us headed up the road to Ballyshannon. It was a match we should have won, having led by six points at one stage, but a determined Donegal fightback seemed complete when they went a point ahead in injury time. We had the final say that day, though, as Noel Durcan pointed right at the death to snatch a draw.
The other draw we gained on Donegal soil was our League meeting in Letterkenny in 2009. How we managed to get anything out of that one remains a bit of a mystery as they were thumping us by nine points at the break. But back we came in the second half and our comeback was completed when Ciaran Conroy pointed with virtually the last kick of the game to end it all-square.
We’ve played them in Ballybofey three times in the past – in 1994, 2012 and 2016 – and have lost each time. Their record in MacCumhaill Park – where they’re unbeaten since 2010 – is an impressive one, not least when you contrast it with our own godawful run of defeats at MacHale Park.
Here too, however, a note of caution is necessary. Donegal tend to shift their home matches around the county – with Ballybofey, Letterkenny and Ballyshannon all getting a cut of the action – and so they don’t play that many games at MacCumhaill Park. Still and all, an unbeaten streak at the venue stretching back eight years is good going.
Okay, onto their form line. With the current League campaign all but over what happened last year is of less relevance to the hear and now but I’m nothing if not a creature of habit so bear with me as we go on a gallop through Donegal’s competitive action last year and this.
In Division One last year, Donegal ended up in third place on eight points, ahead of us on points difference but missing out on a final place to Kerry by the same metric. While we got our points from four wins they did so via three wins and two draws.
They lost by a goal to Kerry at Letterkenny in the opening round but they squeezed by Roscommon by a single point a week later. In Round 3 they played out a very cagey 2-5 to 1-8 draw with Dublin at Ballybofey, following which they had eight points to spare over Cavan at Breffni Park. A six-point win over Tyrone at Ballybofey and a draw with Monaghan at Ballyshannon put them in the frame for a place in the final but we then spoiled those plans by beating them by two points in the final round.
They had only two outings in the Ulster championship last summer. They beat Antrim comprehensively in the quarter-final in May, on a scoreline of 3-19 to 1-9 in a match played at MacCumhaill Park. Then, in the semi-final the following month, they were utterly dismantled by Tyrone, losing by 1-21 to 1-12 at Clones.
That loss meant they were tipped into Round 2 of the qualifiers, as we were too, and as they were also in our half of the draw we had to keep a weather eye on them, knowing that we could well end of facing them at some point.
That didn’t, of course, happen. After wins over Longford, by 0-12 to 0-7 in Ballybofey, and Meath, by 1-15 to 1-14 in Navan, Donegal ran into Galway’s propeller blades, their championship season ending with a 4-17 to 0-14 Round 4A whipping at Markievicz Park. It was the first time in seven years that Donegal failed to reach the All-Ireland Series.
Like ourselves, Donegal have struggled badly this year in Division One. They began under new manager Declan Bonner with two encouraging defeats, an opening round shoot-out against Kerry in Killarney that they were desperately unlucky to end up on the wrong side of a 2-18 to 3-14 scoreline and that was followed by a 1-12 to 0-14 loss to Galway at Letterkenny.
They lost again in Round 3, to Dublin by 0-20 to 0-15, but finally got some tangible reward for their efforts in Round 4 where they had two points to spare over Kildare at Ballyshannon. That one ended 1-15 to 3-7.
Rounds 5 and 6, however, brought two further defeats, both of them to Ulster rivals. Tyrone beat them by 2-13 to 1-10 at Omagh and then Monaghan came out on top by 1-16 to 2-10 last weekend.
So, now you have it. Donegal have two points on the board, we have four. We only need a draw to avoid the drop but if they beat us we’re down on the basis of the head-to-head rule. No complications there.
The bookies narrowly favour Donegal to do the business on Sunday. Paddy Power price them at 10/11 while we’re on offer at 6/5.
As usual, though, let’s finish with a poll on it. Are you confident we’ll yet again retain our top tier status or do you think that this time we’re definitely for the drop? It’s all down to the game on Sunday so how do you think it’ll go for us?
How will we do against Donegal?
- Win (48%, 185 Votes)
- Lose (35%, 134 Votes)
- Draw (17%, 64 Votes)
Total Voters: 383