FOLLOWING the disappointment of National league final defeats, Derry and Donegal will lock horns in Celtic Park this weekend with the winner in prime position to nail down a spot in the Ulster football final given that they sit on the more favourable side of the draw.
However, while Jim McGuinness’ and Brian McIver’s teams might have the easier path to the provincial decider, their respective league final performances raised more questions than answers around their long-term ambitions.
Derry’s inability to compete with Dublin’s speed and power in the Division 1 decider would lead you to believe that while an Ulster title is not beyond them, they are some way behind Mayo, Cork, Kerry and even a Monaghan or Tyrone when exposed to the expanses of Croke Park.
Similarly, the defensive shield and insatiable work-rate that operated so effectively for Donegal in their All-Ireland winning year of 2012 is something that have struggled to re-produce and with a thin enough panel their hopes of an extended campaign are further hampered by the absence of Mark McHugh.
With a hat-trick of Ulster titles snatched away from them last year by Monaghan, McGuinness and Co. certainly won’t be short of motivation, and with McFadden, Murphy and McBrearty their scoring threat is plainly obvious.
However in the absence of Rory Kavanagh (suspended), and with doubts surrounding the fitness of Neil Gallagher, McGuinness appears short on options in the middle third, an area that Fergal Doherty and Patsy Bradley will look to dominate. That could just tip the balance Derry’s way for a first Ulster success over Donegal since 2008.