Donegal's youngsters go down against Fermanagh

Donegal's grip on the Dr McKenna Cup slipped on Saturday night when their youthful side went down by five points to Fermanagh in Ballybofey but manager Jim McGuinness will not be losing sleep over the result.

Donegal's grip on the Dr McKenna Cup slipped on Saturday night when their youthful side went down by five points to Fermanagh in Ballybofey but manager Jim McGuinness will not be losing sleep over the result.

Having won the competition in each of the last two seasons, Donegal went into the game requiring the minimum of a four-point winning margin to eliminate Cavan from the perch of best runners-up.

However, with more important matters looming, starting with the beginning of the National Football League against Sligo this coming Saturday, there were few tears spilt at a chilly MacCumhaill Park as Fermanagh took the points.

The Dr McKenna Cup has been frustrating one for the respective managers, both of whom are in their first year in charge. McGuinness had to make a plea to the Ulster Council to alter the complexion of their panel, while John O'Neill's Fermanagh endured four postponements before finally getting their campaign off with a draw against University of Ulster Jordanstown at the 3G facility at Cavan's Breffni Park last weekend. They followed that up with a 2-11 to 0-11 loss against Tyrone at Brewster Park on Wednesday.

McGuinness, having been granted something of a reprieve during the week when he was allowed to shuffle his pack, fielded an extremely young side. Double-jobbing the posts of senior and U-21 manager, only Kevin Cassidy, Frank McGlynn, Adrian Hanlon and Marty Boyle will not form part of the latter panel that begins the defence of the Ulster title in March against Antrim.

In all, there were seven starting debutants in the Donegal colours - Thomas McKinley, Eamonn Doherty, Danny Curran, Ollie Doherty, Peter McNelis, Jamie Doherty and Marty Boyle.

And although McGuinness's tenure with the seniors is still only taking baby steps, he has worked longer with the younger generation. There was plenty of commitment in a claustrophobic first half.

"It was not a great performance and we made a lot of mistakes in the course of the game," McGuinness said. "But we had made a lot of changes from last week and fielded a very young and experimental side. In fairness to some of the young lads they did well and I thought Jamie Doherty in particular was very good for a player having his first senior outing."

Paul McGrath gave Fermanagh the lead with a free, before Marty Boyle scored a fine points from an angle before Doherty from Letterkenny Gaels knocked over - after taking a couple of range-finders beforehand - from centre-forward. McGrath's second score of the evening tied things up, before James Connolly edged the visitors in front. Paul Ward scored twice, from a free and from play.

Although Donegal defended diligently, they were losing centre-field and without the likes of a Michael Murphy or a Dermot Molloy in the full-forward line, the ball in seldom stuck and that gave Fermanagh a base to work off.

Centre-back Barry Mulrone was the driving force and supplemented the attack with alarming frequency at a time in the game when Donegal's ventures forward were intermittent at best, although Adrian Hanlon did pull one back with the last kick of the half. But for poor shooting, though, Fermanagh would have been more than just the two points in front at 0-5 to 0-3.

Donegal, who lost Marty Boyle with what appeared to be a hamstring injury before half-time, which saw Karl Lacey introduced, added a little more experience at the interval when Ryan Bradley and Barry Dunnion came in.

However, although Donegal looked a little sturdier, it was Fermanagh that continued in a more positive vain in a fruitful third quarter. They posted four of the first five second half points with Ward, McGrath and a brace from substitute Tomas Corrigan, all after Hanlon opened the scoring in the second 35 minutes and that left Fermanagh 0-9 to 0-4 in front.

The deficit, though, could have been even worse for Donegal when a slack square ball from Lacey was intercepted by Connolly, whose drive brought an excellent save from teenage goalkeeper Peter Boyle.

Donegal rallied a little as the clock bore down, with Jamie Doherty and Hanlon scoring points and Lacey too, but another Fermanagh replacement, Ciaran Flaherty gave O'Brien his first win as manager and Ward's point was at a stage when the scattered attendees were already headed for the gates.

For McGuinness and his panel, the early season sideshow is out of the way before the more serious business gets underway this week.

"It is not the end of the world that we lost but to run a fairly strong Fermanagh was not so bad either," McGuinness added.

"But with so many injuries and knock we were not putting a lot of emphasis on this game. It was more a case of putting it behind us and moving on to next week and Sligo in the league. That is a far more important game and far more important to be right for it.

"We rested a number of the seniors at the start tonight like Karl Lacey and Neil McGee because they were carrying knocks and we did not risk Rory Kavanagh at all. But they all should be fine for next Saturday night and that is the important game."

Donegal: Peter Boyle; Thomas McKinley, Eamonn Doherty, Frank McGlynn; Luke Keaney, Danny Curran, Kevin Cassidy; Ollie Doherty, Conor Classon; Peter McNelis, Jamie Doherty (0-2), Odhran MacNiallais; Adrian Hanlon (0-3, 2f), Ryan McErlean, Marty Boyle (0-1). Subs: Karl Lacey (0-1) for M Boyle (21), Barry Dunnion for McKinley, Ryan Bradley for O Doherty (36), Paddy McGrath for McGlynn (55), Neil McGee for Classon (57)

Fermanagh: Fegal Murphy; Peter Sherry, Barry Owens, Michael Jones; Paul McCusker, Barry Mulrone, Tommy McElroy; Hugh Brady, John Melarkey; Paul McGrath (0-3, 1f), Kevin Cosgrove, Niall Cassidy; Ciaran Leonard, Paul Ward (0-4, 1f), James Connolly (0-2). Subs: Conor Quigley for P Sherry (20), Thomas Corrigan (0-2, 1f) for Leonard (42), Ciaran Flaherty (0-1) for Cosgrove (47).

Referee: Martin McErlean (Derry).