Derry’s renaissance under manager Brian McIver over the last year makes Sunday’s USFC clash with Donegal a fascinating prospect.
Derry’s league performances over the last 15 months suggest they are making major progress however, they did suffer a big defeat last time out in the Division One final against Dublin.
It’s hard to know exactly where Donegal are. They eased to promotion from Division II, but their performance levels dipped towards the finish.
Derry have a doubt over James Kielt (quad) but Seán Leo McGoldrick is back in contention after missing out on the Allianz League final defeat due to a knee ligament injury.
McIver is likely to name a couple of championship debutants in his team with goalkeeper Thomas Mallon (The Loup) and defenders Kevin Johnston (Dungiven) and Oisín Duffy (Foreglen) all pushing to start.
Donegal are without midfielder Rory Kavanagh (suspended) while they also have a concern over his midfield partner Neil Gallagher (ankle).
The Glenswilly man could yet start, but Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye, Luke Keaney, Hugh McFadden and Conor Classon are waiting in reserve. The winners of this game advance to an Ulster semi-final against either Fermanagh or Antrim.
Meanwhile, Down and Tyrone meet in Newry on Saturday looking to finish the job both came so close to completing last Sunday.
The quarter-final place on offer looked to be Tyrone’s for three quarters of the game last weekend, with Mickey Harte’s side leading 2-9 to 1-5 heading into the final quarter.
However, Down turned things around brilliantly with the introductions of Benny Coulter and Ryan Johnston changing the complexion of the midfield battle. Goals from Donal O’Hare and Conor Maginn brought Down level, and James McCartan’s side were seconds from victory when Seán Cavanagh sailed over a brilliant late free to ensure Saturday’s replay.
McCartan is hoping Down can carry their second half display into the replay and make the most of a rare home championship outing in the Marshes.
“We’ll be trying to feed off the energy we got from the second half performance,” said the two-time All-Ireland winner. “We’re at home in Newry, it hasn’t happened very often. We’ve proved very hard to beat there in the league over the last four or five years and hopefully that will continue next Saturday night.”
Tyrone will be without Tiernan McCann for the replay after he suffered an injury against Down, but defender Ronan McNamee is in contention after a shoulder injury. Harte also has experienced quartet Martin Penrose, Justin McMahon, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill available to him, with those four having come on as substitutes the last day.
McCartan will have a decision to make regarding Coulter and Ryan Johnston. The pair made an immediate difference when coming on last weekend, and have surely put themselves in contention to start this weekend, even if Coulter admitted earlier this week that he isn’t sure if he is capable of playing for 70 minutes at the moment.