AFTER coming off just after throw-in at the start of the second half of their semi-final win over Cavan, Donegal midfielder Hugh McFadden will be fit to play the final against Derry on May 29th.
Manager Declan Bonner confirmed at an Ulster final launch press event, that he expected to have a full panel to choose from for the clash of the north-west rivals in Clones.
The only possible player to miss out will be long-term injury doubt, Oisin Gallen who has been absent with a quad injury all Championship.
While Derry have knocked out the two favourites for the Ulster Championship in Tyrone and Monaghan, Bonner insisted it hasn’t come as a surprise to him to see them emerge as final opposition.
“We knew they were definitely going to be competitive. We played them last year so we were under no illusion, they are a decent side and had a good league campaign,” he said.
“Unfortunately they had a first half against Galway in the league when they conceded a number of goals.
“They really performed the first day out against Tyrone in the Championship and I suppose people were asking if they could back it up the next day. And the answer was a resounding ‘yes.’ Listen, they have put two of the favourites out of the competition and we know that it is going to be a huge challenge and we will need to be at the best of our performance levels to clinch that Ulster title.”
The last time the sides met was last summer in Ballybofey. Derry matched them stride for stride until Patrick McBrearty escaped the clutches of Chrissy McKaigue to decide the game with a late point in the dying seconds.
That game was played behind closed doors, bringing back some odd memories for Bonner over the past two seasons.
“Even the last time we were in an Ulster final, 2020, it was just surreal. A winter’s, December night. A cold night. No spectators,” he said.
“This is going to be back to what we are used to, hopefully the weather is going to be good and a packed Clones. No better place to perform than an Ulster final in Clones.
“It’s where you want to be, and I am sure no kid in Derry or Donegal thinks differently. It’s the Ulster final in Clones.”
He also believes that in certain respects, there will be a relevance to that game for the final.
“As we found, they are a team that is well organised. They are energetic and a number of top-class players,” Bonner explained.
“Derry football always had that. Their underage systems always had that, their schools were powerful.
“They are organised and they are difficult. It’s no doubt that it is going to be a difficult challenge.
“Tyrone and Monaghan are not easy to get over in Championship football and Derry have done that, so we are well aware of that challenge and task ahead.”
This is Donegal’s eighth final in the last twelve seasons, Derry’s first since 2011, and Bonner plays down the role of experience
“Experience is important in any sport. Experience is important, but is it going to win an Ulster title, no.
“It’s up to the experienced players to deliver a performance on the day. That’s what is required. We have been there, it’s a great place to be, the Ulster final. But it is only a great place to be when you go up those steps and collect the Anglo-Celt.
“We have been on both sides of that. And we are well aware of that.
“And it will go down the final straight. I think the bench, the guys coming off the bench the last twenty, twenty-five minutes, is going to be crucial. It’s up to those guys to make the telling contribution.”