GAA Football

'Huge opportunity' for winners of Tyrone-Donegal clash in Ballybofey admits Declan Bonner

The winners of Sunday's battle of Ballybofey between Tyrone and Declan Bonner''s Donegal will meet either Galway or Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

WITH either Galway or Monaghan waiting in the last four seven days later, Donegal boss Declan Bonner admits there is a “huge opportunity” for the winners of Sunday's battle of Ballybofey to reach an All-Ireland final.

The Tir Chonaill men welcome Tyrone to Pairc Mac Cumhaill for a hugely-anticipated all-Ulster clash, with a semi-final spot up for grabs against whoever comes out of the Farney County's Saturday night date with the Tribe in Salthill.

And with Jim Gavin's all-conquering Dubs on the other side of the draw, a clear path to the final has opened up for all four.

“It's a huge opportunity, yeah,” said Bonner.

“I'm sure Tyrone will be looking at it the same way. It's where you want to be. If we'd been told at the start of the season you could win the Ulster Championship and you've a match in Ballybofey to get into the last four, I think you'd have taken it.”

Donegal, who are sweating on the fitness of flying wing-back Eoghan Ban Gallagher, have been hailed for their expansive, attack-minded play under Bonner.

And the 1992 All-Ireland winner insists he will resist any temptation to revert to a more defensive style against a Tyrone side that is so adept on the counter.

“Not really, no,” he continued.

“You have to look at everything in terms of the opposition, their game-plan. Every game brings its own challenges, many teams are playing different styles of football.

“They attack well, they defend well. People are on about that they're a defensive side but no, they break in numbers and they've been shooting up big scores against Cork, against Roscommon. They are dangerous, they have some very good players.

“They're just a well organised, well drilled team. Mickey's been around the block long enough now, he's achieved everything in the game as a manager. They're going to be a difficult, difficult side to break down and it's going to be a huge task.

“But we look at our end of it, look to see where we can do damage to the opposition and that's what we'll be working on.”

Last time out Mickey Harte's men kept Dublin to 1-14 – the lowest tally the Dubs have amassed since the 2015 All-Ireland final win over Kerry, a game that was played in dreadful conditions.

So finding ways to unpick the Red Hand defence - particularly in the absence of injured star forward Paddy McBrearty - will be top of Bonner's priority list heading into Sunday's game, where Donegal need a win while a draw would be enough to see Tyrone through.

“Defensively Tyrone are probably the top team out there so they're going to ask us serious questions, we're going to have to find those answers,” said Bonner.

“We've started that process after Saturday night's game and everything we do at training over the next four or five sessions is geared towards that, and we hope to get it right on the day.

“There is always room for improvement. We kicked 20 scores [against Roscommon] and there were others we didn't take. We had one or two goal chances, but those small margins we have to close against Tyrone.

“We have to be more clinical. We had to tighten up defensively and we are moving in the right direction to get the mix between defence and attack.

“We know the challenge that lies ahead, and I'm sure it's one the players are looking forward to. There's a huge prize, an All-Ireland semi-final, and that's the carrot at the end of the day.”

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