Pointless starts at Pairc Esler and O’Moore last Saturday night raises the importance of the meeting of Donegal and Laois on Sunday afternoon.
Three time All-Star winner Karl Lacey deputises as the Donegal skipper in the absence of Michael Murphy and although there are many things that are still being assessed in early February, the abilities of the Four Masters defender is not one of them.
Lacey has consistently been Donegal’s outstanding player and as he enters his ninth season in the county jersey, the start of the National Football League is the real start of the football season.
“It’s very hard to take something out of the Dr McKenna Cup so this is where the real football starts for the season,” Lacey said on Saturday night in Newry. “We’re very disappointed as we had a couple of great chances there at the end. We did well to come back after Down getting the early goal and having such a good start. We did get ourselves back into it and it could have went either way in the end. It’s disappointing it went the wrong way from our point of view.
“We were slow out of the traps for some reason and I don’t know why that was to be honest. They got 1-3 but we managed to slow it down and get our heads together and we settled. There’s a lot of things we can take from today. We were missing a few but we have boys there that came in and proved they can step up to the plate. They were put in there but that’s what they’re there to do.
“The momentum was with us and we should’ve pushed on from there. Maybe it’s because we were lacking a bit of experience there without Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden but it’s a learning process. You can see young Stephen Griffin there, Patrick McBrearty is only in his second year, as is ‘Brick’ (Dermot Molloy), but this game will stand to them in the future. They might be disappointed but that’s what the panel is there for.”
With Lacey’s father Joe a native of Luggacurren, a village some eight miles south-east of Stradbally, the 27-year-old has frequently travelled to Laois since his childhood. Today, a number of those kitted in blue and white will be keeping an eye on their adopted son.
The constitution of Division One is lopsided and in a competition of tribalism where there are benefits to be reaped from home dates, Donegal have only two more road trips – to Killarney and Croke to face last year’s All-Ireland finalists Kerry and Dublin – from their six remaining fixtures.
Last year Donegal and Laois came from Division Two together. The meetings between the sides were close, with Justin McNulty’s team inflicting the first of only two defeats on Jim McGuinness’s side in 14 league and championship outings in Portlaoise. In the league finalat Croke Park, Donegal came through.
Time, though, stops for nobody a new season brings with it new responsibilities. Both counties are acutely aware of the tone their campaigns will already be taking if they are to leave O’Donnell Park with a second defeat on Sunday.
“The pressure is on now with a home tie against Laois so we definitely need to get off the mark,” Lacey continued. “You have to be winning your home games anyway but with Laois having lost to Mayo they will want the points too. It’s all to play for.
“The home games are the ones you’re looking to win and the game in Letterkenny will give us the chance to get the one in Newry out of our heads. It’s very hard to know where you are until you getting playing at a level like Division One is. It’s where you want to be.”