THE STAKES this August Bank Holiday weekend are practically a mirror image of 12 months ago for Donegal.
Declan Bonner takes Donegal to Castlebar for a do-or-die Super 8 joust in their latest chapter in their rivalry with Mayo.
The memories of 2018 are firmly ingrained in Donegal’s thoughts as they head west.
Then, Donegal met another of their fiercest foes, Tyrone, in the final Super 8 group game with a place in an All-Ireland semi-final at stake.
Donegal led by four points with 15 minutes to go and were sailing through. Tyrone capsized their vessel as Harry Loughran and Declan McClure netted in a 2-7 salvo by Tyrone to leave Donegal counting the cost of a first League or Championship defeat in Ballybofey since 2010.
Before Donegal’s opening Super 8 clash with Meath this year, Michael Murphy left no doubt about what defeat meant.
“It is fairly raw within the whole group,” Murphy said at the time.
“That was in front of our own people, in front of our own group.”
A result in Castlebar will put Donegal into the last four.
And the lessons of last year are firmly in Bonner’s mind.
The Donegal manager said: “There is no doubt that was a big hurt.
“It was a disappointing way to finish the season. We put ourselves in a position, we played really well.
“All the good work we had done all year, winning the Ulster championship, getting in the Super 8s, leaving ourselves in that position to get into the last four, it was a really disappointing way to the end the season in front of our own people.
“I am not going to say we did not mention it at the start of the year. We did, but did we dwell on it too long? No. We moved on because we knew that there were going to be changes within the playing and management group. We had to move it up to another level and we feel we have made strides again this year.”
Eoghan Ban Gallagher’s season has been ended by a broke ankle, but Bonner believes that he will have an otherwise fully-fit squad. Patrick McBrearty has been rated as doubtful, but Bonner is hopeful of being able to select the Kilcar man. Bonner acknowledged that McBrearty’s hamstring was ‘tight’ but added: “Bar Eoghan Ban, I’d be very hopeful that we’ll have a full squad to play. They’re on the mend again and we’re hopeful on them.”
Donegal retained their Ulster title this year and won promotion back into Division One, but Bonner knows they have to take the next step for real improvement to be marked.
He said: “We know that this time last year we had an opportunity when we played Tyrone and we did not take that.
“We were within 10 or 15 minutes of reaching an All-Ireland semi-final and we did not see it out.
“We have an opportunity this year to go one step further this year and that has been the challenge. What is that going to take? It is going to take a big performance in Mayo’s back yard.
“I think it is going to be a fascinating match, I honestly do. It is going to be a cracker.”Tags: