St Eunan’s, the defending champions, and last year’s runners-up, Kilcar, are the early favourites for the Donegal Division One league honours.
That is the considered view of former Ardara player and manager Patrick Gallagher, who feels once again that both St Eunan’s and Kilcar have the players to be challenging at the business end of the league.
Dungloe and Bundoran are the Ardara man’s fancy to come out of Division Two, while he also believes they will be looking over their shoulders at Glenfin and Naomh Muire.
Aodh Ruadh are his tip to finally emerge from Division Three with Naomh Brid and Buncrana challening for the promotion play-off spot.
“How teams fare all depends on the availability of county players and how many games they play for their clubs,” insisted Gallagher.
“St Eunan’s are the least affected by club versus county. First off they have only Rory Kavanagh and Eamon Doherty in Jim McGuinnness’s squad and besides they have the luxury of having a big panel of players.
“That is why I expect they have to be up at the top again and challenging at the end of the league. Kilcar will be up there, too, though the availability of the county men will have a bearing on this.”
Naomh Conaill, Glenswilly and St Michael’s are others that Gallagher also feels will not to too far away when the Democrat Cup is being handed out.
Donegal has a new All-County League format this season. The new format sees the number of games in Divisions One and Two increase from nine team to ten team leagues.
This follows the passing of a regulation proposed by Cloughaneely.
Just as was the case for a number of seasons the top team in the division are crowned champions while the one big change is that second and third from bottom of the leagues is no more.
It has been replaced with the second from bottom of the higher league playing-off with the second from top in the Division below to decide the second promotion/relegation spot.
The bottom team in each division is automatically relegated.
“I like the new format. It means there are an even number of teams; there are no free weekends. In the old format with only nine teams, there was always one team free in every round.
“Hopefully, with the new relegation system, clubs will be more willing to play without their county players because the most important thing is that we give club players regular football.
“The only thing I would change with the format, I would have league finals in all divisions as opposed to the top team winning the league.
“I know people say the best team is at the top of the table at the end of the league. Last year I recall St Eunan’s won the league in one of their last games of the league against Killybegs and there was no big deal about it.
“On the other hand I remember the last time I was manager of Ardara, we won a league final and we were presented with the Cup afterwards and there was a great sense of occasion about it.”
The new season throws-in this weekend with five games in Divisions One and Two and just two games in Division Three.
The Gallagher verdict
Malin v Kilcar
Malin got off to a great start last year. They won their first four games and were top of the table for a time.
But they have a tough opener against Kilcar who have Rory Gallagher back and working with John McNulty and Michael Molloy. And while Malin are a tough nut to crack in Connolly Park, I expect Kilcar may have enough firepower to come away with the points.
St Michael’s v St Eunan’s
St Michael’s got off to a great start last year and were setting the pace early on. But they won the Gaeltacht in Glen and it as all down hill after that. The big plus this year is that they have Christy Toye back fit again and playing well. Martin McElhinney is also showing good form with the county and along with Colm McFadden I feel while it won’t be easy against St Eunan’s, I feel with home advantage they should shade this one.
Verdict: St Michael’s
Gaoth Dobhair v Ardara
Kevin Cassidy will be anxious to get his reign as manager off to a winning start especially at home. Magheragallon has never been a happy hunting ground for Ardara going back a good few years. They suffered a heavy defeat in Magheragallon last year in the league, though Adrian Brennan’s men will draw some inspiration from turning them over in the quarter-final of the championship.
However, with Paddy McGrath still sidelined and I’m not sure about the availability of Conor Classon, I feel Gaoth Dobhair should take the points.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair
Glenswilly v Four Masters
Four Masters are one of the teams to benefit for a reprieve with the introduction of the new format. They were relegated after losing to Ardara, in a play-off but because of the extra team in the league they were spared the drop.
They had a very poor start to last year’s league and I’m sure Emlyn Hughes will be anxious they get off to a much better start this year.
However, Glenswilly at home and with Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy and Gary McFadden on board, it is difficult to see anything other than a Glenswilly win.
Termon v Naomh Conaill
From what I hear Termon are training very hard and are putting in a big effort and are determined to hold onto their status after being promoted.
On their day they are a match for the best and are a difficult side to beat at the Burn Road. But I am also aware that Naomh Conaill have had a good pre-season and have warmed up for the new season with a number challenge games with a number of top teams in Derry in recent weeks. I expect Naomh Conaill to win this one and I’m also expecting them to have a good season overall and to have a big say in both the league and the championship.
Verdict: Naomh Conaill
Downings v Naomh Muire
Naomh Muire should be too strong for Downings.
Verdict: Naomh Muire
Fanad Gaels v Cloughaneely
Home advantage should be enough swing this one in favour of Fanad.
Verdict: Fanad Gaels
Sean MacCumhaills v St Naul’s
MacCumhaills had a good championship last year and if they can rediscover that form I expect them to get off to a winning start.
Verdict: Sean MacCumhaills
Bundoran v Killybegs
Bundoran have Charlie O’Donnell back in charge and I expect they should take the points against Killybegs.
Dungloe v Glenfin
This promises to be a close affair, but at home, I would fancy Dungloe.
Naomh Brid v Naomh Colmcille
Verdict: Naomh Brid
Aodh Ruadh v Buncrana
Verdict: Aodh Ruadh