Well, this is all a bit odd.
It’s the day before an absolutely enormous Championship match for the county and I’m marooned a few thousand miles away from the action. Odder still is that it’s the second Super 8s match in a row involving us that I’m missing, as the Meath game was on the day we arrived here.
But, of course, missing matches isn’t exactly a rare occurrence for me, certainly not this summer. I didn’t make it to New York and a wedding kept me away from the Roscommon game. Tomorrow’s match will be the fourth Championship match this year involving us that I won’t get to – that’s half our total for this summer.
By coincidence, we’re in the same part of the world we were staying in back in 2016 when we tuned in from afar to catch that year’s All-Ireland semi-final. A similar result to that win over Tipperary would do just nicely for us tomorrow and, should we do this, I can imagine celebrating the win with some of the same beer-laden gusto.
I am, of course, sad to be missing out on tomorrow evening’s game, which is set to be quite the occasion. While it’s not the first All-Ireland Series game ever to be played at MacHale Park – that honour goes to the 2001 quarter-final clash between Roscommon and Galway – and it’s not even the first time that Donegal have contested an All-Ireland Series match at the venue (they played, and beat, Galway there in the replayed 2003 quarter-final), it will be the first time we’ll have done so, having only played provincial and qualifier games in the Championship there to date.
On offer to the winners (or, in Donegal’s case, the team that earns a share of the spoils) tomorrow evening is a place in the All-Ireland semi-final. The most recent time a prize of that magnitude was on offer at a match involving us at MacHale Park was way back in 1996. In those pre-qualifier days, our win over Galway in the Connacht final that year sent us straight through to the final four.
A win tomorrow will do likewise. For sure, it’s a tall order and Donegal are deserved favourites going into this game, if only because they’ve enjoyed a far better summer so far than we have. They’re undefeated, they’re the Ulster champions and they drew with a Kerry team that pretty much hunted us out the gate the previous weekend. It’s easy to see why most of the money is piling on them.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean they will do it. As we all know, our lads perform best when the fire is at their backs, as it once more will be tomorrow. For us, it’s all very simple – it’s win or bust.
Our cause hasn’t been helped by the news, as yet not confirmed officially but those inside leaks to the Connaught Telegraph have been on the money all summer and I’m sure this latest one is too, that David Clarke misses out through injury. It’s another chance for Robbie Hennelly and, as many have argued here all week, this might in any event have been the right game to play him in.
Or not, depending on your opinion. Whatever. That decision has now apparently been forced on us and, like all the other injuries we’ve suffered this year, we just have to get on with it.
While neither Keith Higgins nor Paddy Durcan have been named in that leaked team it’s likely both will see action at some stage, perhaps from the start. While we won’t be picking from a full deck, the team we do field will be far from a threadbare outfit.
It’s one that we can expect will compete fiercely and will give its all to keep our Championship hopes alive. Which I’ll think we’ll do, though only after a pretty ferocious battle.
Back with some final pre-match thoughts tomorrow, by which time I should have the GAA GO side of things sorted over here and be ready for action. Up Mayo.