Donegal re-enter the Ulster Senior Championship cauldron next weekend when the Ulster champions face Derry on Saturday in MacCumhaill Park. (Throw in 5pm)
The game is a repeat of last July’s Ulster final and is Donegal’s second outing in the 2012 provincial campaign. Jim McGuinness and his men have already sent Cavan packing with an easy 1-16 to 1-10 victory over a youthful Breffni outfit in Kingspan Breffni Park, just over three weeks ago.
Colm McFadden, in the absence of injured captain Michael Murphy, was top scorer on the day with 1-6 – the goal scored from the penalty spot – with Rory Kavanagh (3), Mark McHugh (2), Leo McLoone (2) and Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Neil Gallagher the other Donegal marksmen.
Derry, after a poor league Division Two campaign – they won two and drew one game and just avoided relegation to Division Three with a point to spare over Monaghan, who made the drop – are having their first outing in the championship.
They are boosted by the return of Paddy Bradley, who it has been reported, is flying in training. Bradley missed out last year when the Derry side went down 0-8 to 1-11 to Donegal in last year’s Ulster decider.
However, they have been hit with the retirements of three very experienced members of the squad after Kevin McGuckin, Kevin McCloy and Enda Muldoon, all regular member of the Oak Leaf set-up for over a decade, called it a day.
Both McGuckin and Muldoon started last July in St. Tiernach’s Park, while McCloy, who was bothered with injury, was introduced as a substitute.
In the intervening months Donegal have had their defections too. Kevin Cassidy, one of Donegal’s three All-Star defenders from last season, got his walking papers at the end of 2012, while Michael Hegarty has called time on a long and distinguished Donegal career in the closed season.
Both sides have their injury worries going into the game with the fitness of Donegal captain and ace forward Michael Murphy fitness shrouded in secrecy.
Murphy scored a goal and two points in last summer’s Ulster final, the goal from the penalty spot early in the second half. He has not played a competitive game for either club or county since suffering a knee ligament injury against Dublin in the league at the end of March.
After close on two months on the treatment table following a procedure on the injury shortly Murphy returned to full training the week before last.
His game time in the last two weeks has been confined to in-house games and even if he is fit, match fitness after a nine week lay-off is bound to be a concern for Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher.
Midfielder Rory Kavanagh continues to receive treatment on an ankle injury picked up in a club game just over two weeks ago. The St.Eunan’s man has undergone intensive treatment on the injury and while he is thought to be in a race against the clock, hopes are high that the midfielder will be fit to face the Oak Leafers.
On the good news front injuries to Paddy McGrath, Christy Toye and Eamon McGee have cleared up though there are still slight concerns over a nagging Achillies injury Neil Gallagher is struggling to shake off.
Meanwhile, Derry have their injury problems too. The Oak Leaf boss John Brennan already has ruled both corner back Dermot McBride and versatile forward Caolan O’Boyle out of the clash with Donegal. They both have hamstring injuries.
Speaking at the Derry press night last Tuesday night in Owenbeg, Brennan also raised serious doubts as to whether Eoin Bradley will be fit to take his place in Ballybofey on Saturday evening.
Bradley is the younger brother of star forward Paddy. He missed last year’s Ulster final after suffering a cruciate injury in training two weeks before the Clones showdown having taken on the role of leader of the attack in the absence of big brother Paddy, who had suffered a cruciate injury earlier in year.
It is understood his rehab has not gone all that well and he suffered a setback in a recent club game.
Both Donegal and Derry are putting the finishing touches to their preparations this week with Jim McGuinness and John Brennan not expected to reveal their final selections until much nearer match time.