One worrying stat for Derry to overcome as ‘imperfect’ Donegal can win insists Jim McGuinnesss

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and Derry boss Mickey Harte shake hands at the end of January's Dr McKenna Cup final in Omagh
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and Derry boss Mickey Harte shake hands at the end of January's Dr McKenna Cup final in Omagh -Credit:©INPHO/James Crombie

Jim McGuinness knows that Donegal are not yet at the level of the top teams in the country, but he is adamant that his side can spring a surprise against Derry on Saturday night.

The back-to-back Ulster champions have home advantage and have already won the Dr McKenna Cup and Division One title under new boss Mickey Harte.

The bookies have Derry priced at 4/11 while Donegal are 11/4 outsiders for the clash at Celtic Park. Donegal might have ended the League as Division Two winners, but they’ve a host of major injury concerns.

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Paddy McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Dáire Ó Baoill, Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Brendan McCole are doubtful starters. All the form points to a Derry victory, yet McGuinness doesn’t see it as a bridge too far for his improving side.

“No, I wouldn’t agree with that. That’s exactly what we’ve done throughout the National League. We’ve analysed the opposition and we’ve tried to win a game,” stated McGuinness.

“We managed to do that. I wouldn’t agree with that. You aren’t where you want to be. The cohesion is not there, the understanding is not there.

“At the same time, there’s always a kick when a new manager comes in and people are motivated and they are working hard. Just because the thing isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we can’t come together to win a game of football.

“To be honest, that was 2011 in a nutshell. We tried to put down a defensive structure to protect ourself to stop the haemorrhaging. Then the transition started coming. There’s only so much you can do two or three nights a week and even less when half of them aren’t there.

“Not crying poor mouth or anything, but not being able to play 15 versus 15. How do you work on kickouts?

“We are trying to be fair to the U20s - they are in the middle of their Championship.”

McGuinness is happy with the progress of his team thus far in the first year of his second stint Donegal boss.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness -Credit:©INPHO/James Crombie

His first led to Donegal being crowned All-Ireland champions in 2012 and they’ve already won silverware in 2024 - albeit McGuinness is already thinking about how difficult Division One will be in 2025.

“We are on a journey and we are back in Division One and that’s going to be an incredibly competitive division next year,” added the Donegal boss.

“Dublin, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Tyrone, Armagh and Derry. There’s a lot of very good teams in there. For young players, trying to build them and grow them and develop them. . . if you can stay in that division next year, that’s going to be key.

“Every one of those games. . . you are going to have to have six points to stay up. You’re looking at the teams and going ‘where are you going to get six points’ but there are other teams thinking the same way.

“We are happy with the progress we’ve made. We also know what’s coming down the track.”

McGuinness also spoke of his admiration for Derry boss Mickey Harte with the pair set to renew managerial rivalries along the sideline on Saturday evening.

However, worryingly for Derry fans, Harte is zero from three in Championship battles against McGuinness with Donegal beating Tyrone in three successive Ulster Championship games between 2011 and 2013 while they also won the 2015 clash when Rory Gallagher was in charge.

“Mickey (Harte) is someone, obviously, I admire immensely,” said McGuinness. He has done amazing things. He is an incredible competitor and always presents you with a really difficult challenge.

"For us, we have to solve that problem. That’s the part you enjoy and we’ll try to get as many fellas back as possible and see how the pieces fall. We’ll enjoy that game, that’s one thing we will do and we’ll give it our best shot.

“There’s always pressure. I don’t think there is ever such a thing as a free hit. Donegal against Derry - you want to win the game.”

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