Karen Guthrie sometimes wonders where the time has gone.
The Glenfin midfielder in her 12th year on the Donegal senior team and it seems an age since she won Ulster Minor titles in 2004 and 2005.
Guthrie and Niamh Hegarty are the only two of those who featured in the wins over Cavan and Tyrone in ’04 and ’05 who are part of a senior squad that goes to Parnell Park tomorrow to take on Dublin in the next game in the Lidl Ladies NFL Division 1.
By the summer, there is a possibility that Yvonne McMonagle and Aoife McDonald could return from far off shores for the Championship.
Things have changed utterly since Guthrie took her first steps as a senior.
At training now, Glenfin woman Patricia O’Connor helps to feed Micheál Naughton’s players. They want for nothing now as everything is put in place to make them as close to the elite of the game as possible.
“We used to have a pound of ham, a few slices of bread and we’d toast it…” Guthrie recalls.
“We get fed after training now. Believe it or now, that’s a massive thing. A lot of county teams don’t get that. We’re well looked after. It’s right up there now, what we’re getting.
“We have everything we need, from nutrition, we get fed, we all have access to the gym and to the pool for recovery.
“A lot of things have changed. We’re more aware now, probably.
“Davy (McLaughlin) set a standard and we were never going to go back. It was important to maintain the standards that he had set. Before that, we weren’t as aware of the importance of all of that.
“We’re training five or six times a week. Micheál and the County Board have worked so hard to secure funding. People in there now understand what it takes and they’ve been working away.”
Donegal are back in Division 1 again after spending some time in Division 2. Castlefin native Guthrie, who works for Donegal Sports Partnership, doesn’t want they to fall through the trapdoor again.
After all, they poured their lives into getting back to the top rung.
“In 2015, we won all of our games and were nine games unbeaten, but we still didn’t get out of Division 2,” she says.
“That was harsh, but we just had to get on with it and we made no mistake last year.
“Our only priority now is staying safe. Genuinely, that is all we’re worried about and you’ll hear that a lot over the next few weeks.
“It’s great to be back in Division 1. It’s been a few years. We worked so hard to get up here.”
Donegal overcame Armagh and Galway in their opening two matches before they fell to a late defeat to Kerry in Rathmore in their last outing.
It was a game and a day that Guthrie believes delivered a timely reminder of just how unforgiving life in Division 1 can really be.
She says: “The margins are so fine. Adam Speer has been saying that from day one. He’s been saying all along how we’re good enough to compete.
“Small things make a massive difference in Division One. Just one slip, one pass, anything will be punished.
“The goal in Kerry was just a lapse. It was 20 seconds of play that we switched off for; we weren’t tight, we weren’t pressing and we let in a goal.
“If you’d asked us at the start of the year, we’d have taken two out of three, for sure. It was so close in Kerry. The game got away from us. We led for 90 per cent of it and we were only behind when they got the goal. We felt hard done by and felt really disappointed.”
In a 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final, Donegal were only beaten by three points by Dublin.
Guthrie sat out pre-season last year due to an injury and by the time that game came around she was running on empty.
She says: “I’m enjoying it more now. When you feel good, you enjoy it more. I missed pre-season last year and when we played Galway and Dublin, I really felt it.
“I struggled and I wasn’t happy with my game. I like to have everything in line and don’t like to miss training at all. I like to have it in my head that I’ve done all I can. I missed that last year.”