By James McMahon
Donegal v Tyrone, Ballybofey, 4pm
Many will argue that the start of the Championship is all too often a slow burner, but this year the month of May offers us a real blockbuster as Donegal and Tyrone are set for battle by the banks of the Finn.
A palpable sense of anticipation surrounds the clash, with Tyrone’s league performances indicating that they are now back at the pitch that saw them claim All-Ireland glory in the last decade.
As for Donegal, the pressure is on to defend last year’s titles, and while the spring saw relegation from Division 1, you would have to take Jim McGuiness at his word that Tyrone on 26 May has been his side’s sole focus since the draw was made last October.
Today’s game then will give us a clear indication whether Jimmy’s boys have the appetite and discipline to repeat last year’s exploits. In the end, Donegal were more than worthy All-Ireland champions, with their efficiency in the tackle a standout, most notably against Cork and Kerry.
And while they did not reach previous heights on the day Sam was won against Mayo, the platform of an early lead was solid enough to see them over the line comfortably.
To that end, a good start for either team will be vital.
Tyrone’s run in getting to the league final is evidence for some pundits that they will regain the Ulster crown this summer.
And while their spring performances have been applauded, they also have the extra motivation in preventing Donegal from lowering their colours for a third year on the trot in the province.
Defeat means a qualifier route for one side in their attempt to reach Croke Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
However, Cork, Kerry, Donegal or Kildare could all have the same mission after the dust has settled on their provincial campaigns. The possibility of another intriguing clash awaits, and so further spice is added to the weekend showdown.
Donegal line out with the same XV that started last year's All-Ireland final.
Key trio and current All Stars, Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh and Frank McGlynn have all recovered from injury setbacks to take their places.
Tyrone welcome back Stephen O'Neill and Peter Harte after the duo missed the league final, with Dermot Carlin and Paddy McNiece making way. There are Championship debuts for goalkeeper Niall Morgan and Conor McAliskey, who will start at No 15.
Expect many keenly fought duels, and it will be interesting to see how the impressive Cathal McCarron deals with Michael Murphy.
Niall Morgan has proven to be an excellent free-taker for Tyrone and was near flawless against the Dubs last month.
The Red Hand custodian could have a major role in how things pan out.
As for a prediction, well you could sit on the fence and go for a draw in a game where scores are hard to go by.
However, it's braver to come down on one side or the other and if Tyrone can repel any early surge from a team, who will be cheered on by an enthusiastic home support, then their new found confidence could see them home.
In saying that, they have to be more clinical in front of the posts and not repeat the errors that cost them against the Dublin where a number of efforts dropped kindly into Stephen Cluxton's hands.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh; Mark McHugh, Leo McLoone, Ryan Bradley; Paddy McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden.
Tyrone: Niall Morgan; PJ Quinn, Conor Clarke, Cathal McCarron; Justin McMahon, Joe McMahon, Conor Gormley, Colm Cavanagh, Sean Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Peter Harte, Mark Donnelly; Martin Penrose, Stephen O'Neill, Connor McAliskey.
Live television coverage of Kerry v Tipperary and Donegal v Tyrone from 13:30 on Sunday 26 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage of all the day’s action featuring Donegal v Tyrone from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
Highlights and analysis of all the weekend’s action on The Sunday Game from 21:30 on Sunday 26 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).
Previews, reviews and features of all the GAA Championship action on Championship Matters from 20:30 on Thursday 30 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).