SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP: All the games previewed ahead of the opening weekend of action

Tom Comack looks at the eight ties in the four groups

GAA preview

Gaoth Dobhair and Kilcar - two of the front runners for championship success again this year

Gaoth Dobhair, the reigning Donegal and Ulster champions, begin their 2019 championship campaign with a home tie against St Eunans in Magheragallon on Sunday evening.
The game, a repeat of last season’s opening group game, is the tie of the eight first round games fixed for this weekend.
Three of the games are on Saturday evening with five on Sunday over staggered throw-in times which hopefully will allow supporters take in a number of games.
Gaoth Dobhair are the championship favourites, with Kilcar, who have already claimed the Democrat Cup, seen as their biggest challengers.
Naomh Conaill and St Eunans are also seen as contenders with the Michael Murphy-powered Glenswilly the dark horses.

Group A
Saturday, September 7
Pearse Park, Ardara, throw-in 6.30 pm
Ardara v St Michaels

Ardara and St Michael’s get the ball rolling in the group of death on Saturday evening. Ardara go into the tie on the back of a good run in Division Two and promotion to the top flight.
They will be without Paddy McGrath and CJ Molloy, both out with long term injuries. In their absence, the weight of expectation rests on Declan Gavigan, Peter Oliver McNelis, Paul Watters, Conor Classon, Brendan Boyle, Lorcan O'Donnell and Jack Brennan.
St Michaels had a mixed Division One league campaign before rounding off the season with a couple of good wins.
Their return to form coincided with the return of Michael Langan from county duty and veterans Christy Toye and Colm McFadden back from injury. Martin McElhinney, Daniel McLaughlin, Colin McFadden and Andrew Kelly are also playing well for the men from the Bridge.
Their experience of playing at the higher level could prove the difference.
Verdict: St Michaels

Sunday, September 8
Magheragallon, throw-in 6pm
Gaoth Dobhair v St Eunans

It’s the clash of the big two and a repeat of last season’s opening group game in O’Donnell Park. Gaoth Dobhair won that game by a point on a 0-10 to 1-6 scoreline.
The teams finished with 13-a-side after Odhran MacNiallais and James Carroll, Gaoth Dobhair received their marching orders along with Rory Carr and Sean Hensey, St Eunans.
After that game Gaoth Dobhair went on a winning run to claim Donegal and Ulster titles before giving All-Ireland champions Corofin a run for their money in the All-Ireland Club semi-final.
Former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Richard Thornton, the team trainer last season, has taken over as manager of St Eunans from Maxi Curran.
Thornton used the league to blood a number of young players like Brian MacIntyre, Conor Moore, Sean Halvey, Sean McGettigan and Eoin McGeehan.
Mervyn O’Donnell has freshened up the champions with the emergence of Ethan Harkin.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair

SEE ALSO: One game at a time for Mervyn and Gaoth Dobhair 

Group B
Saturday, September 7
MacCumhaill Park, throw-in 6.30pm
Sean MacCumhaills v Dungloe

With Naomh Conaill and Killybegs the fancied teams in Group B, MacCumhaills and Dungloe are largely seen to be fighting to avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.
Bernard McGeehan the MacCumhaills manager and the much travelled Francie Martin, the Dungloe manager, may have other ideas.
But the form guide does not lie. MacCumhaills were relegated from Division One of the league along with Milford.
The men from the Twin Towns won just four of their 17 games played. They still have an outstanding away league game against Gaoth Dobhair to play.
Dungloe played in Division Two of the league and had a very mixed season. After a poor opening half of the campaign they recovered well from being faced with relegation to Division Three at one stage during the summer to finish up mid-table in what was a very competitive division.
MacCumhaills will have Oisin Gallen back from Donegal duties and Marty O’Reilly back from a summer in the Big Apple.
Dungloe are also expected to have Cory Gallagher back from Boston.
Verdict: Sean MacCumhaills

Sunday, September 8
Davy Brennan Memorial Park, Glenties, throw-in 2pm
Naomh Conaill v Killybegs

Another one of those meetings of the two top teams in the group stages. Naomh Conaill are currently sitting in third place in the league with a game to play. They may not have claimed silverware but the league campaign for a team with championship ambitions will go down as a reasonably good one.
They are still backboned by Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone, Owen Waide, Marty Boyle, Ethan O’Donnell, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Brendan McDyre, Eunan and Ultan Doherty. Charles McGuinness has also made the step up from reserve to claim the No. 14 shirt.
Killybegs finally clinched promotion with a one point win over Termon at the Burn Road on Saturday evening.
Hugh McFadden has been their driving force all season in the absence of Eoghan Bán Gallagher, long term injured.
Ryan and Paul Cunningham and Michael Gallagher have also been scoring freely for John Cunningham’s young side.
Verdict: Naomh Conaill

Action from St. Michael's against Bundoran in the league. St. Michael's are away to Ardara on Saturday evening; Bundoran go to Termon on Sunday 

Group C
Saturday, September 7
Tir Conaill Park, throw-in 6.30 pm
Four Masters v Milford

Four Masters and Milford will fire the opening shots in Group C, the most open of the four groups. Glenswilly are the favourites to claim one of the two quarter-final places.
Four Masters, Milford and Glenfin are all in the running to claim the second spot.
Four Masters and Milford will be anxious to leave the disappointment of relegation from Division Two and Division One respectively behind them.
Four Masters won six games, the same as Naomh Columba and one less than Termon and Dungloe, in a very competitive Division Two. But they still lost out and will play in Division Three next season.
Four Masters also changed manager in recent weeks with assistant manager Pat Campbell taking on the baton after the outgoing boss Ian McKenna stepped down.
Milford also made the drop from Division One after winning only four games in a very competitive top division.
Verdict: Milford

Sunday, September 8
Pairc Taobhoige, Glenfin, throw-in 2.30pm
Glenfin v Glenswilly

Glenswilly are the fancied team in this group but their meeting with Glenfin, their only away clash, is fraught with danger.
Glenfin, last year’s Intermediate champions, have a good senior championship pedigree and at home they are a hard nut to crack.
They go into the game on the back of a good league campaign where they finished in fifth place in a very competitive Division Two having been in the running for promotion for much of the season.
Gerard Ward and Ciaran Brady were two of the form forwards in the league and will carry the main scoring threat once again on Sunday.
Glenswilly are a team in transition with Sean Wogan and Caomhin Marley two of their emerging young players making their mark this season.
And with Michael Murphy - the best footballer in the country - leading the attack, it would be very unwise to back against them.
Verdict: Glenswilly

Group D
Sunday, September 8
Burn Road, Termon, throw-in 2pm
Termon v Bundoran

The meeting of Termon and Bundoran is a crunch tie in the chase to claim the second place at the top of the group behind Kilcar.
Bundoran have been making steady progress in recent seasons and go into the championship on the back of a good league campaign. They finished in fifth place in the league having played the bulk of the campaign without Jamie and Paul Brennan.
Termon had a disappointing Division Two league campaign. They finished in seventh place having been one of the favourites for promotion at the start of the season. Like a number of teams, Termon are in transition with an exciting group of young players having emerged from the club’s underage nursery.
In Daire and Caolan McDaid and Enda McCormick they have three of the top forwards in Donegal. McCormick is available for the championship having missed much of the league campaign serving a three month suspension.
Verdict: Bundoran

Sunday, September 8
Towney, Kilcar, throw-in 3pm
Kilcar v Malin

Kilcar have already won the Division One title and are the form team in the county going into the championship. They are unbeaten in the league with 16 wins and one draw in 17 outings. They still have one outstanding game against Naomh Conaill to play.
The 2017 champions and last season’s defeated quarter-finalists have bounced back this season and had the league title wrapped up long before the end of the season.
Ryan McHugh (concussion) and Patrick McBrearty (cruciate) missed last season’s championship campaign. But the county pair are fully fit again and with Michael Hegarty still playing an influential role and Mark McHugh, Ciaran McGinley, Mark Sweeney, Conor Doherty and Matthew McClean scoring freely, Kilcar are a formidable outfit. They are by a good stretch champions Gaoth Dobhair’s biggest challengers.
Malin had a number of good seasons in the senior championship. But they have dropped off the pace and they have dropped down to Division Three in the league.
Verdict: Kilcar

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