Donegal's depth of quality should end Fermanagh's unbeaten start

Allianz Football League Division Two, round three: Donegal v Fermanagh (Letterkenny, 2pm Saturday)

Jim McGuinness back on familiar territory with Donegal. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

NEIGHBOURS, and at the same level – but probably only for a short time.

Donegal went down last year, and Fermanagh up, but those aren’t trends expected to continue. Nor is the visitors’ unbeaten start.

That’s not to say an away win is impossible. Fermanagh delight in confounding expectations and although Letterkenny is the longest trip for any of Donegal’s visitors in this division, it’s still a short one for the Ernemen, which can be helpful in the League.

But – don’t make me say it – the home boss has a knack of achieving victories.

Jim McGuinness is doing what he did 13 years ago, convincing, reminding Donegal players of their own ability, and demanding that they give their all every week.

Kieran Donnelly won’t have any fears on that front about his Fermanagh footballers, but he simply doesn’t have quite as many good players as the hosts.

Even beyond the respective starting 15s, the depth of the respective benches could be another difference. Donnelly only made three substitutions last time out – and all of those came together, in added time. Sure, that could have been reflective of satisfaction with the starting 15′s display, but it’s also indicative of the more limited range of options available to him.

The Brookeborough man has been building his squad but despite all his positivity the well-documented loss of several experienced players ahead of this campaign remains a setback.

Donegal having yet another different manager in charge could be regarded in that way too - if not for the fact that it’s Jim McGuinness.

His iconic status in the county means that everyone wants to play for him. Any slight sniffles or strains will be shaken off to declare availability – and Jim still might leave you out.

The Glenties man has been quick to impose his ideas about style of play and he’ll have relished the fortnight’s break since round two, allowing him to work more intensively with players.

Donegal’s squad options have been increasing too, with Oisin Gallen coming in for the narrow win over Cavan after the impressive opening defeat of Cork, along with goalkeeeper Shaun Patton (returned from suspension), while Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher and Stephen McMenamin also made first starts. McGuinness may have more choices to make in terms of personnel this time too.

Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly Picture: John McIlwaine

Fermanagh boss Donnelly’s call is more about the approach, assuming Josh Largo Elis (and Ronan McCaffrey) came through all right after helping Ulster University to a long-awaited Sigerson Cup triumph in midweek.

The school-teacher has also been adding tactical flexibility. While his first season was mostly about establishing defensive solidity, making Fermanagh hard to beat again, last year they were more attacking, as evidenced by topping Division Three.

Besides, sitting back, defending deep and in numbers, is a risky strategy against Donegal given their ability to take scores from long range. They showed that particularly against Cork, albeit aided by a strong wind, but there’s no doubt about the quality of their distance shooting. What’s more, they’re far from reliant only on their forwards, with excellent footballers all over the pitch, capable of coming forward and splitting the posts.

Fermanagh can say that to an extent too, but the Cullen brothers, Che and Lee, are likely to have to concentrate more on their defensive duties after both scoring points last time in the win over Kildare. Even with the impressive Oisin Smyth alongside them the Fermanagh full back line will be well tested if facing Paddy McBrearty, Gallen, and Jamie Brennan.

The Fermanagh attack is more new-look, with the established quality of Ultan Kelm augmented by Garvan Jones and Sean Cassidy. They can pose problems, but Donegal should make their superiority show.