The centre-field pairing of Rory Kavanagh and Kevin Rafferty and centre-back Anthony Thompson are Jim McGuinness’s concerns on a week when Leo McLoone was ruled out of the Ulster final after a helter-skelter weekend of club championship.
The St Eunan’s duo sat out training on Tuesday night at O’Donnell Park and undertook a hydrotherapy session instead, but the manager is hopeful they will return for the weekend session eight days before the Ulster final against Derry in Clones. Kavanagh has an ankle knock that forced him to take a place among the substitutes for St Eunan’s Raidio na Gaeltachta SFC 0-11 to 1-8 draw with Dungloe at O’Donnell Park on Saturday, although he was sprung from the bench with 20 minutes remaining with his team three points down. Rafferty played the full hour in the middle of the field and had an impressive outing but has a groin strain. Thompson is also carrying a knock from the weekend.
“Rory Kavanagh has a bit of a sore ankle and Kevin Rafferty has a groin strain,” said McGuinness. “Neither of them would’ve played in the (club championship) game had it been a league game and they were kind of forced into a situation. Rory didn’t actually start but the game was going away from St Eunan’s so he had to come on. Obviously club championship is club championship and they want them out there and don’t want to lose the game. It’s disappointing he had to be risked and he won’t train this week but we hope to see him and Kevin back at the weekend.”
The Donegal manager’s request to have the eight senior and three intermediate championship first round second legs deferred fell on deaf ears and now the county will have to plan without utility man McLoone. The Naomh Conaill clubman scored a late goal in the 2-6 to 1-10 loss against Glenswilly but then received a serious facial injury in a treacherous after-match brawl that contained in the region of 40 and 50 people on Sunday. The county board have stated their intent to hold an investigation into the incident, while it was later confirmed 22-year-old McLoone suffered a double break in his eye socket and was to undergo an operation in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry yesterday.
“Without dwelling on it too much, we were very disappointed with some of the decisions that were made,” McGuinness said in relation to the county board’s insistence on playing the club championship. “We were told that their hands were tied and nothing could be done then subsequently their hands weren’t tied.
“The issue was made since that there was not enough weekends in the calendar. What wasn’t highlighted was that we offered to play games after the Antrim match on Wednesday nights and weekends, which would have freed up four weekends.
“We sent an email to the CCC (Competitions Controls Committee) in relation to that and that email was never circulated to the clubs for consultation and that process never happened. Now we’re in a situation where we’re squeezed for weekends and the county management came forward with a proposal so it’s hard to take when that’s being put forward as a defence. It’s disappointing because it’s something we flagged up and we’re very disappointed it’s transpired that way now.”
Last week, the CCC officials insisted their hands are tied and that the fixture championship programme has been set in stone and approved by both the Ulster Council and the Central Council of the GAA. However, McGuinness then learned an Ulster Coucil spokesperson quoted in The Irish News saying that is not the case and that it is up to each county run its own fixtures.
McGuinness, who was present at Davy Brennan Memorial Park in Glenties on Sunday for the Naomh Conaill against Glenswilly game, expessed his disappointment at McLoone’s predicament, especially so as the player had just returned from a three-month lay-off having suffered a broken ankle in a club fixture in March.
“It’s not what we wanted but for our own group of players now it’s about looking forward as it’s less than two weeks to an Ulster final,” McGuinness said. “We haven’t got the timeframe to dwell on it really and we have to set our sights firmly on Derry. We must make sure we do everything in our power to win that game and it’s tremendously disappointing for Leo because he has worked very, very hard and there was an awful lot of time and effort put in from a number of support systems to try and get him back on the field. Our primary focus now is to move towards the game.
“Hopefully we can draw a line under it now and look forward to an Ulster final because it’s 19 years since we won it. It’s a huge game for this group of players and for Donegal.”