Down and Donegal kick-off the Ulster Senior Football Championship this Sunday at 1 pm in Páirc Esler, Newry.
In the preliminary round of the provincial competition, the two sides face-off with the winner facing National Football League Division Three winners Derry in the quarter-finals.
The game will be available to watch on RTÉ One’s ‘The Sunday Game’ with coverage starting at 12:55 pm.
After an abysmal season, Down, relegated to Division Three, will want to see improvements in their game.
Similarly, Donegal needs to make a statement in Ulster after unconvincing performances in the league saw them squeeze into the Division One semi-finals, where they looked a level below a Dublin that has not hit top form yet this season.
Donegal is the stronger of the two sides on paper, boasting a powerful attack that includes a blend of established figures and up-and-coming talents coming towards their prime years.
They have entered a new era of attacking football, a far cry from the 2012 side which championed a hard-working defensive style.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner has found a way to include all his attacking talents into one side and has reaped the rewards on that side of play.
Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty still star for the 2012 All-Ireland winners in the forward lines with the pair proving that age is just a number.
Jamie Brennan, Ciaran Thompson and Oisin Gallen look more and more assured alongside the veteran duo as their experience grows.
Niall O’Donnell and the reliable Michael Langan also provide attacking support for the side.
Ryan McHugh is as dangerous as ever going forward from his wing-back role.
Peadar Mogan has also impressed on the opposite flank.
The side’s attack was able to function in the absence of Michael Murphy after he went down four minutes into the Monaghan game.
With him back, they can only get better.
The sheer attacking power will be sure to terrorise a Down defence that has shipped 78 points in its four games in 2021 and looked frail throughout them.
Goalkeeper Rory Burns must be mentioned as he has been a bright spark in an otherwise poor defence for the Mournemen.
But if a side concedes 78 points in Division Two, albeit 27 to All-Ireland finalists Mayo, they will have a rough 70 minutes against a side that scored 77 against the best sides in the country.
James Horan’s Mayo is a good example of a young, pacey attacking side that tore up the Down backline and a similar result will be expected against Donegal.
Down boss Paddy Tally will have his work cut out for him to fix their defensive issues before his side faces Bonner’s Blitzkreig.
However, Bonner’s gung-ho approach leaves Donegal susceptible at the back as Ulster rivals Monaghan and Armagh have already showcased.
A slow full-back line was exposed but the power of Donegal’s attack pulled the side back into the games.
The era of the blanket defence has created a generation of defenders who are not ready to make that step up for Donegal.
Down will look to take advantage of this as they attempt to pull off the upset on Sunday afternoon.
Barry O’Hagan will be an important figure high up the pitch for the Mourne County.
His scores against Laois kept them in Division Two.
Cory Quinn will be another option for Down when an attack is on for the side.
Barry’s brother and Down captain Darren O’Hagan will be busy in the middle of the park.
However, Down will rely on Rory Burns to keep Donegal’s blistering attack at bay but, unlike Laois and Westmeath, it may be too much of an ask for the Castlewallan man.
R Burns, P Fegan, G McGovern, G Collins, P Laverty, D O’Hagan, D Guinness, C Mooney, R McEvoy, L Kerr, C Doherty, B O’Hagan, C McCrickard, L Middleton, C Quinn
S Patton, B McCole, N McGee, S McMenamin, R McHugh, O McFadden Ferry, E Ban Gallagher, H McFadden, C McGonagle, C Thompson, N O’Donnell, M Langan, P McBrearty, M Murphy, P Mogan
Predicted Winner: Donegal by 10