Gaoth Dobhair stars return as Donegal prepare for Armagh showdown
ULSTER club championship winners Neil McGee, Daire O Baoill, Cian Mulligan, Odhran McFadden-Ferry and Michael Carroll have all returned to the Donegal fold in time for Saturday night's Division Two showdown with Armagh in Ballybofey.
After resting for a week to recover from their club's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Connacht champions Corofin on February 16, the Gaoth Dobhair quintet linked up with Declan Bonner's squad this week.
County captain Michael Murphy could also feature in the game but Gaoth Dobhair midfielder Odhran MacNaillais will take an extended break before returning to the fold and Kieran Gillespie remains on the sidelines as he recovers from a cruciate injury.
Hosts Donegal and visitors Armagh are locked together on four points each, two points off the promotion places with three games to go in a typically claustrophobic second tier struggle.
Having been part of Crossmaglen's last Ulster club-winning side in 2015, Armagh defender Paul Hughes fully expected Gaoth Dobhair's players to be back on duty at MacCumhail Park.
“They'll already be at match pace because they have been playing the whole time,” Hughes predicted.
“We're definitely going to have to show up with our heads screwed on and be ready for a battle. It's always a battle when the Ulster teams meet so we need to show up and try and get a result.”
He added: “You have your so-called four top teams in Ireland and after that there's not that much difference in the calibre of the rest - it's all really on the day. There's not much between the second half of division one and the whole of division two.
“So you have to be on your toes every day you play and Ballybofey will be very tough, the crowd are going to be on us but we're just going to have to go and try and stick to our gameplan and get a positive result.”
Hughes made his first competitive start of the season against Tipperary last Sunday after injuring his shoulder in his club's Ulster semi-final loss to Gaoth Dobhair in November.
“I missed the pre-season so I was trying to play catch-up and get back in,” he said after Armagh's six-point win over Tipp.
“I got a couple of minutes against Meath and then we had a friendly against Monaghan last weekend and I got the minutes under my belt and I was able to get back in the team.
“I missed a lot of track sessions so I had a lot of rehab sessions to do to try and get back up to speed. Thankfully I had the boys around me as well, helping me out, and I was glad to get back.
“Tipp are a dangerous team going forward, they have a lot of big men and I thought our double-up and our swarm tackling was brilliant. The amount of times we turned the ball over and got men around the player and won the ball was very encouraging. Hopefully we can carry that on to Donegal next Saturday.”
Armagh surrendered winning positions against Kildare and Clare in their first two games and defeat to Meath followed before the Orchardmen got over the line against Tipp on Sunday. Hughes described Armagh's assured finish in that game as “massive for our season”.
“We probably should have at least three wins at this stage,” he said.
“We're always there or thereabouts in the last five minutes but we weren't seeing out games and being as ruthless as Kieran and the management wanted us to be.
“There was a bit of nerves in the second half because we have thrown away a couple of leads late on in games. I think we've got over that now, we've seen out a game and we looked strong in the last 10 minutes, whereas in other games we haven't.
“That's going to bring us on and give us confidence that we can see out games and finish strong. It's something to bring forward for the rest of the year.”