Donegal hurlers take centre stage this Sunday as they get their new season up and running with a home game against Monaghan, in Division 3A of the Allianz National Hurling League in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny. (2 pm)
This weekend’s game is the first of five games in the league, three at home and two away, with Louth and Fingal the other home ties while Tyrone and Fermanagh are the away games.
Donegal are once again managed by Ray Durack - his second year in the job - with Ardal McDermott, who retired from the inter-county game at the end of last season, and Offaly native and St. Eunan’s player, Adrian Gaffey, his mentors.
Niall Campbell and Mickey McCann have also retired.
Durack guided Donegal to just one win in last season’s league campaign (against Sligo) and finished in second bottom position just above Sligo.
However, the former Galway minor and Donegal senior insists that his charges are determined to finish much higher up the table this time around. He also insists that his team are in much better shape for this year’s campaign than they were 12 months ago.
“We have been training away since before Christmas doing gym work and strength and conditioning and we also have played a number of challenge games in recent weeks. This time last year I was only appointed four weeks before the start of the league and as a consequence we had very little work done,” Durack told the Democrat.
“We are in much better shape this year and are really looking forward to Sunday’s game and the start of the league. The aim is to finish much higher up the table this year and while winning the division might be beyond us we are aiming for second or third place and be in good shape heading into the championship.”
Donegal have beaten Sligo, lost narrowly to Mayo and went down by five points to Derry, in recent weeks in challenge games, in the build up to the start of the league.
While veteran Ardal McDermott has called time on his career, Donegal’s prospects have been boosted by the return of Ciaran Mathewson and Paddy Hannigan, both of whom missed all of last season.
Marty McGrath and Justin McGee struggled with injury last year but are also fully fit again.
Jamsie Donnelly, Joe Boyle along with Justin McGee and Marty McGrath will once again backbone the defence. In the absence of Campbell and McCann from the attack, the main focus for scores will rest with Danny Cullen, Lee Henderson, Sean McVeigh, Enda and Ronan McDermott.
Monaghan defeated Donegal by a point, 2-19 to 4-12, in Clones last year.
Donegals squad: Paul Burns, Marty McGrath, Benny Harrigan, Chris McDermott, Joe Boyle, Stephen Boyle, Ronan McDermott, Conor McLaughlin, Enda McDermott, Stephen Gillespie (Burt); Justin McGee, Jamsie Donnelly, Paddy Hannigan, Lee Henderson, Ciaran Mathewson, P J Browne, Gary Browne, Bernard Lafferty (MacCumhaill’s); Danny Cullen, Justin Browne, Shane Gallen, Brendan Tourish, Michael McGee, Kevin Campbell (Setanta); Paul Sheridan (Aodh Ruadh); Sean McVeigh, Colm Flood, Conor McVeigh, Lee Scanlon, Kevin Meehan (St. Eunan’s)