DONEGAL'S main priority in 2024 should be staying in Division Two of the Allianz Football League.
That is the view of legendary former captain Michael Murphy, who also believes that the county now ranks 'fifth or sixth' in Ulster.
Murphy is excited that Jim McGuinness is back at the helm and knows that Donegal always have good players, but he thinks the county needs to be realistic about its ambitions as the re-building process of bedding in young talent with experienced players could take a few years.
“I believe Donegal will be very honest with themselves,'' says Murphy.
“If you look at the last few years at provincial level we have probably slipped down the pecking order to fifth or sixth places.
“There’s Derry, Tyrone, Armagh, Monaghan all probably ahead of Donegal at the moment, whereas people around the country are thinking that Donegal challenged in the latter stages of the All-Ireland.
“But I think that Jim and everybody will be focusing on getting things back to basics in Division Two and the provincial level in the past you would always take great confidence that Donegal would do well at those levels.”
When asked if winning Division Two and or taking an Ulster title was achievable for Donegal, Murphy said “we have to be really realistic here.”
“We know that there is talent within the group, but we also know that we have dropped out of Division One and suffered a first round exit in Ulster last year.
“If you were to look at things now there are probably four or five counties in Ulster who think at the moment that they are probably ahead of Donegal in the pecking order and that is within our own province.
“We need to be really realistic where we are at and that is what the management and team will know.
“The importance of Division Two is seen in terms of the Championship structure and the need to stay in Division Two is the big one.
“Whether it’s won or not, the big goal is to stay within it and consolidate Sam Maguire for us for this season.
“That is where the first goal start and the team will be trying to gel together. It will be a fairly new team and staying in Division Two should be the first goal.
“Then we have the Derry game in Ulster, which is going to be huge. Derry have been the standard-bearers in Ulster for the past two to three years and they were a kick of a ball away from an All-Ireland final last year.
“We need to be realistic within the county about our expectations and get the team competitive again.
“As regards silverware we have to realise what is immediately possible.
“We were relegated from Division One and beaten in the Ulster championship in the first round and that was just six to eight months ago and the challenge for the whole group now is can we stay in Division Two and can we consolidate Sam Maguire status and can we be competitive in Ulster again.
“I believe the ability is there to overcome those hurdles and hopefully we can push on thereafter.”
But Murphy said he was enthused by the return of key players from travel, work commitments and injuries.
“It will be exciting to see Ryan McHugh, Oisin Gallen and Patrick McBrearty for a full year and Brendan McCole pushing on and Michael Langan injury-free. There is a lot of talent there.”
Murphy is also enthused at the return of his old mentor.
“It’s an exciting time and also for his backroom team, where he has two characters like Colm Anthony McFadden and Neil McGee there as well.
“They are really deep thinkers on the game and really passionate Donegal men which is another boost, and they would be highly respected among that group of players.
“That first piece of the jigsaw for Jim has gone really well. He knows the standards that are needed to prepare the Donegal team to the very best they can be.
“Jim connects really well and is a brilliant communicator and first and foremost he will be well versed in how things are different compared to when he was first involved.
“Jim will be super organised, and the group will find the best way to play, but Jim is also a very proud Donegal man like Colm and Neil and there will be an emphasis on representing Donegal to the best of the player’s ability and how proud and lucky the group are to be in that situation.
“A lot of the players I soldiered with for years are very proud to play for Donegal.
“Lads will be disappointed with the way the team performed in the recent past and they will be hoping to get back up to another level.
“And I think no stone will be left unturned, physically, mentally and technically and in terms of getting themselves into shape for what is a very busy season.