Refreshed Donegal primed to go to work
Donegal boss Jim McGuinness took his team away on a bonding session last weekend to avoid the football fever that has swept the county ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.
But it was a suitably brief ‘staycation’, overnighting at the Redcastle Hotel in Moville, a secluded four-star hotel and spa overlooking Lough Foyle on the Inishowen Peninsula.
There was some controversy last month when the Donegal County Board refused to fund an overnight stay for the team ahead of the Ulster final.
Because of the huge distances involved for some of their players, Donegal used the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan as a base on the eve of both the Ulster semi-final and final.
Their county board agreed to fund the first of those trips but, when it came to the final, said they could not afford to do it a second time and a private benefactor — a British-based businessman — stepped in to fund it.
But the county board shelled out for last weekend's overnight trip and said they are giving the team every support possible.
“There was never any issue between ourselves and the team management,” said Donegal chairman PJ McGowan yesterday.
“We sit down with them regularly, discuss their plans and see what we can do to facilitate them and it is all about co-operation. The team have been very helpful to us also when we are arranging fundraising events.
“We can meet most reasonable requests but we could not fund the stay before the Ulster final and had to tell them that, but we had absolutely no problem in a private individual paying for that either.”
McGowan revealed that their board have received close to 14,000 tickets for Sunday's big game and, with other sales through local commercial outlets, it is expected that 20,000 Donegal fans will be at Croke Park.
The clash is already an 82,300 sell-out with interest in the clash described as “unprecedented” for a recent fixture outside the All-Ireland finals.
The last of the tickets were snapped up yesterday.
GAA spokesman Alan Milton confirmed yesterday that a sell out was about to be declared, saying: “Outside of an All-Ireland final there hasn't been ticket interest like this in recent times.”
The biggest attendance so far this year has been the 58,723 who turned up to watch Dublin squeeze over the line against Kildare in the Leinster semi final.
Michael Hegarty, who had bruising around his knee, has been Donegal's only injury worry but is expected to be ready.
Team captain Michael Murphy, who did not start the quarter-final against Kildare because of a hamstring injury, played a full game for his club just a week later to confirm his full fitness.
Kerry also took their team away the weekend before last Sunday's semi-final victory over Mayo, using the Fota House Hotel and facilities in Cork for training.
Murphy's return means someone will lose out in the forwards and there is speculation that it will be Paddy McBrearty.
The 17-year-old has done remarkably well in his debut senior season but could be given an impact-sub role in a match which comes just 48 hours before he returns to start his final year in secondary school.