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'Donegal are fully loaded'

Donegal clash vital to four-in-a-row bid

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Sinéad Aherne expects Donegal to provide a stiff test for Conor champions Dublin

Sinéad Aherne expects Donegal to provide a stiff test for Conor champions Dublin

SPORTSFILE

Sinéad Aherne expects Donegal to provide a stiff test for Conor champions Dublin

"It could be a very short championship," says Sinéad Aherne pointedly, "and we're well aware of that."

The differences between this year's ladies' All-Ireland SFC and those of recent vintage are too many and obvious to name here.

But it's in a pure, competitive sense that Aherne issues her warning.

In 2017, when Dublin bridged a seven-year gap to win just the county's second All-Ireland senior title, they began their campaign with a 8-13 to 2-3 victory over Laois in Timahoe, a leisurely leg-stretch in which Aherne scored 3-4.

After that, by way of tune-up for the All-Ireland series, they had a 19-point victory over Westmeath in the Leinster final.

In 2018, they began their campaign with a 5-11 to 2-8 win over Westmeath (1-5 for Aherne on that occasion) and similarly, last June they had a 4-11 to 1-7 victory over the same opposition in Dr Cullen Park to kick-start their three-in-a-row bid.

Each serving as a casual toe dip into Championship waters before Dublin plunged themselves into the real stuff.

Now?

Step forward Donegal, Ulster champions, a team of immense talent and as yet, unfulfilled potential on the All-Ireland stage - Dublin's opponents tomorrow in Breffni Park in a Group 3 opener that could effectively end their four-in-a-row campaign at the first stage.

"Donegal are obviously a huge threat," Aherne acknowledges, "and normally you're going in with a game.

"For us, it's been the Leinster final where, win or lose, you're still going into the group scenario with a chance to regroup and stand a chance of getting out of it."

"We're in a pretty tough group this year so by all means, if we get caught by Donegal on the first day, that's it, it's a six-week championship and that's the end of it."

Challenges

Dublin beat the third team in their group, Waterford, by 18 points in Portlaoise last year and the expectation is that they, and Donegal, will do so again this year.

With just one team emerging from this year's realigned Group stages to take a place in the All-Ireland semi-final, Saturday's game is effectively knock-out.

"I always would have thought Donegal were well capable of challenging for All-Irelands," Aherne reckons, "and maybe of all years, this suits them.

"They probably have a lot of challenges every year in terms of availability and travel," the Dublin captain points out, "so maybe with more players being home-based they have more players together consistently over a good period of time.

"I'm sure they absolutely fancy a crack at taking down the All-Ireland champions in the first game and that's something that we have to be ready for."

Dublin haven't played Donegal in the Championship since 2016, when they won by three points in Pearse Park. But the relevance of that game, given the turnover of players between the panels, is negligible.

And as Aherne admits, even 2020 form is irrelevant now.

"It's difficult. You can play some in-house games and friendlies, but really championship pace is a different beast," she says.

"When we get out there we'll find out on the day whether we've managed to prepare as well as we can.

"We know that Donegal are coming fully loaded into this one."


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