Derry provide stiff test for Rory Gallagher’s opening League game with Donegal

Peter Campbell, Spor

Reporter:

Peter Campbell, Spor

Derry provide stiff test for Rory Gallagher’s opening League game with Donegal
Rory Gallagher’s first real test as new Donegal manager takes place on Saturday night when Derry visit MacCumhaill Park (7.00 p.m.)

Rory Gallagher’s first real test as new Donegal manager takes place on Saturday night when Derry visit MacCumhaill Park (7.00 p.m.)

The occasion is the opening game of the Allianz National Football League and home form will be all important in the battle at the top table.

Four years ago Jim McGuinness set out as senior manager for his first league game against another neighbour, Sligo, and it took a late goal from an unexpected source - Neil McGee- to give Donegal a share of the spoils.

Saturday’s is a bigger test for Donegal who are some way behind in terms of fitness because they were not back to collectiv e training until the week after Christmas.

That sluggishness was evident in the second half against Fermangh on Sunday week last, but in the intervening two weeks, it is expected that Donegal will be much more prepared for the battle.

They have already encountered Derry in the Dr. McKenna Cup, going down by 11 points (1-16 to 0-8) in Owenbeg on the first Sunday of January.

In terms of a guide, that game has little to offer as Donegal fielded none of the team that started the All-Ireland final, while Derry had a huge sprinkling of their best team on board.

Both managers know that the McKenna Cup game will count for little on Saturday.

Donegal are likely to have most of their regulars back on Saturday night. Some of them have been eased back over the last few weeks with the others working away behind the scenes getting their fitness levels up to scratch.

Fingers will be crossed that Odhran MacNiallais recovers from a hamstring strain as he was very impressive in the one game he played - against Queen’s.

Christy Toye looked back to his best and will be a lynchpin at midfield while Paddy McGrath looks fitter than at any time of his career (he almost got in on the scoring act against Fermanagh, having a goal chance saved midway through the second half).

Martin McElhinney, Frank McGlynn and Eamon McGee are all certain to start, with Ryan McHugh set to return after playing with Sligo IT in the FBD League.

It will be interesting to see if Rory Gallagher starts any of the newcomers who were given their chance in the Dr. McKenna Cup. Kilcar pair Ciaran McGinley and Eoin McHugh were two that put their hands up.

Donegal need to get out of the traps quickly as seven days later they travel to Croke Park to take on the Dubs.

After that there is a three week break with the 2014 panel going for their holiday to Dubai as part of their reward for reaching the All-Ireland final last year.

When they come back it will be straight back into action with four games in the month of March, home games to Cork and Monaghan followed by Kerry away on Sunday 15th March; Tyrone at home on 29th March and the final game away to Mayo in Castlebar on the first Sunday of April.

It is a tougher baptism than Jim McGuinness four years ago as Donegal were in Division Two at that time.

This time around Rory Gallagher will need to get points at home and nothing less than a win against Derry will satisfy him or the Donegal supporters.