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McMenamin all set for massive test as Donegal eye semi

Crucial: Stephen McMenamin has key defensive role
Crucial: Stephen McMenamin has key defensive role
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Donegal left-full-back Stephen McMenamin has been getting up close and personal with some of football's marquee forwards over the course of recent weeks.

And having confronted Meath whizz-kid James Conlon and Kerry golden boy David Clifford in his team's last two outings, the tough-tackling McMenamin is unlikely to be unduly perturbed if he is designated to keep tabs on either Andy Moran or Cillian O'Connor when he lines out against Mayo in tonight's crucial Super 8 contest at Elvery's McHale Park, Castlebar (6.00).

With Donegal's defensive resources having been stretched to the limit recently because of injuries to Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath and Eoghan Ban Gallagher, manager Declan Bonner found himself forced into a make do and mend situation for the clash with Kerry.

But a streetwise Mayo side now hope to maximise home advantage as they bid to book their ticket into yet another All-Ireland semi-final.

It's to players such as the sturdy McMenamin that Bonner must look to stoke his team's resistance against a side which his assistant, former Mayo boss Stephen Rochford, knows inside out and back to front.

And while this will certainly not be to Donegal's disadvantage, the fact that some familiar names could still be missing from his team sheet is not likely to nurture that extra degree of confidence within Bonner's starting line-up that can guarantee a sprint from the starting blocks.

In losing to Kerry and overcoming Meath in the Super 8s to date, Mayo have tended to show their erratic side.

Yet their solid underbelly of experience provided by Aidan O'Shea, Lee Keegan, Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, Brendan Harrison, Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran complements the verve and artistry of the newer breed of players such as Darren Coen and James Carr to such an extent that the team's followers right now are imbued with optimism rather than burdened by apprehension.

But that optimism is tempered, you can be sure, by the knowledge that Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh will, if afforded even moderate licence, prove that they can run the show from Donegal's perspective.

And while their contribution is unlikely to be anything less than immense, the inspiration they are capable of providing can prove the catalyst for a towering team effort.

The durable McMenamin along with Odhran McFadden Ferry, Caolan Ward and perhaps Daire O Baoill are in line to help prop up the Donegal defensive structure depending on the worrying injury situation.

But the Ulster champions will require to be on their toes from the outset to prevent their hosts stealing a march on them.

Jamie Brennan might have had a quiet outing against Kerry when he was held scoreless but he could steal into the limelight this time out and the big hope is that Patrick McBrearty will be there to share it with him.

Ciaran Thompson, Michael Langan, Niall O'Donnell and Oisin Gallen are all capable of posting scores for the north west side providing, that is, they see enough of the ball.

If they do and assuming that the Murphy-McHugh axis is at full throttle, then a last four place is well within Donegal's gambit.

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