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Ernemen a huge step up in class for Donegal: Cavanagh

By John Campbell ·

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New challenge: Declan Bonner is plotting the downfall of Fermanagh

When Sean Cavanagh suggested recently that Mickey Harte's style of management could be "quite autocratic at times", the conclusion was drawn in some quarters that the former Tyrone skipper was providing a broad hint his forthcoming book might include some interesting material.

Yet there is more than a touch of irony in the fact that the publicity accorded to Cavanagh's expanded observations at that point would have served as material for a book in itself.

Be that as it may, triple All-Ireland winner Cavanagh could be said to have rocked the Tyrone boat to some extent, but this should not be allowed to mask his belief that Donegal will need to hit a new high in Sunday's Ulster final against Fermanagh.

He does not hesitate to outline the difficult route he feels Declan Bonner's side have charted to get within touching distance of a fourth provincial title in seven years.

"Donegal were relegated from Division One in the league, in which they used 37 players before they looked comfortable against Cavan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship," stated Cavanagh. "That was not a huge challenge for them, admittedly, and then there was a certain inevitability about the result of their game against Derry at Celtic Park.

"You have to give Derry a bit of credit because they hung in there, but although they stifled Michael Murphy to a large extent, Paddy McBrearty went to town with a salvo of points."

It was after that game that Donegal annihilated an inept Down side in a one-sided Ulster semi-final by 2-22 to 1-12 to thrust themselves into the favourites role for the title.

But while Cavanagh acknowledges that Donegal have shown a big improvement since the league, albeit against modest opposition, he sees the Ernemen's style of play providing a fresh challenge for them.

"Donegal have undergone changes in personnel. They don't have the snarling McGee brothers in there, but the team does possess pace, with Ryan McHugh the architect of moving the ball at speed," stressed Cavanagh.

"It's a different Donegal, but I think that we haven't found out an awful lot about them in the Championship. We may not do until Sunday."

Donegal have progressed the hard way, given that their three wins in the Championship to date would have sufficed to earn a title in a different province.

Cavanagh's belief that Bonner's men will be fully tested by a Fermanagh side which has already beaten Armagh and Monaghan is endorsed by several pundits.

Manager Bonner, aware that his team's runaway win over Down served to thrust them onto a fresh pedestal, is particularly wary as he prepares to select his team tonight, his chief task in this respect being to name a replacement for the suspended Neil McGee at full-back.

Less than a year has passed since he succeeded Rory Gallagher as Donegal boss, and now, 20 years after his first year in his initial term as his native county's manager ended with a narrow Ulster final defeat to Derry, he is back in the hunt for the Anglo-Celt Cup.

"We will be tested, and we know we will have to look at different avenues in terms of getting scores," insisted Bonner.

"Fermanagh were very well set up when they defeated Monaghan and they will be well prepared for us too."

Meanwhile, like all managers, Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney is ever-ready to embrace the arrival of silverware in his county.

The capture of the Division Three league trophy in April hardly registers as a significant feat, but while the accompanying promotion to Division Two was even more welcome, there is one goal that McGeeney would clearly like to achieve this year.

And that is to be in a position to name something approaching a full-strength side.

Since January, McGeeney has been waging his own battle against an injury list of varying severity, and it's no different for Saturday's All-Ireland Round Two qualifier against Sligo.

Ethan Rafferty and Paul Hughes are both ruled out, Stephen Sheridan is a possible rather than probable candidate for game time, and Ben Crealey may also miss the cut for the game.

Ethan Rafferty and Paul Hughes are both ruled out, Stephen Sheridan is a possible rather than probable candidate for game time, and Ben Crealey may also miss the cut for the game.

Yet if the Orchard County's litany of misfortune has deprived the side of seasoned personnel, it has also opened the door to perceived lesser lights.

In their most recent outing, Armagh beat Westmeath 3-16 to 1-11 in Mullingar, with Joe McElroy, Jemar Hall and Connaire Mackin - a trio virtually unheard of beyond their county boundary - aiding their claims for more regular selection.

Tonight, as he finalises his line-up for Markievicz Park, these and other names will occupy McGeeney's thoughts as he continues to hope for the return of a full complement of players.

While the new kids on the block seek to provide further evidence that a long-term stay in the side is their goal, McGeeney would nonetheless welcome the opportunity to deal from a fuller hand, particularly now that his team have it in their own hands to make it into the Super-8s.

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New challenge: Declan Bonner is plotting the downfall of Fermanagh