Donegal may not have qualified for the latter stages of the Dr McKenna Cup, but manager Rory Gallagher should be reasonably happy.
At least that is the view of the man who holds the title of Donegal’s number one follower, Edmund Brennan.
The Naomh Ultan clubman lives in Donegal Town and hasn’t missed a competitive Donegal game at senior, U-21 minor, U-17 and U-16 grade for longer than he cares to remember. He even clocks up a number of challenge games each year. If the fanatical Edmund hears about a game involving any Donegal team, he makes arrangements to be there.
So far this year Edmund has been to Owenbeg to watch Donegal and Derry, in the opening game in the Dr McKenna Cup on the first Sunday of the New Year.
He was in Ballybofey seven days later to run the rule over Donegal in their clash with Queen’s University.
And he was among the 1,500 or so fans that braved the cold to watch Donegal and Fermanagh as Donegal registered their second win of the campaign. They also won against Queen’s by double scores 2-16 to 1-8.
The 1-16 to 0-8 defeat to the Oak Leafers was the only blemish so far on manager Rory Gallagher’s copy book.
“I was disappointed with the way we played in Derry in the second half. I know we had a lot of new and inexperienced players on against Derry and they were much stronger and had more first choice players in their line-up.
“But I was still disappointed after a good enough first half; we fell away badly after half-time once Brian McIver copped on to the way we were playing.
“We didn’t take our chances when we were on top in Derry and allowed them back into it before half-time and allowed them totally dominate the second half. They won all the breaks around midfield and it was all one way traffic in the second half.”
Edmund had no complaints about the big win over Queen’s, though he did think that Queen’s were no great shakes.
Again he was happy that Donegal defeated Fermanagh, albeit on the back of a good first half performance followed by another poor second half display.
“The way we allowed Fermanagh back into the game in the second half having been seven up at half time, like the game in Owenbeg was disappointing. We were actually eight points up early in the second half.
“It is a pity that we did not kick on at half-time, given the position we were in with a chance of making to through to the semi-final.
“I feel we could have done with another game. it would have been nice to see a number of the new lads that Rory has tried out get another game.”
But despite the failure to qualify for the last four and at least one more game Edmund is reasonably happy with this season’s Dr McKenna campaign.
“Personally, I think Rory Gallagher will be happy with the three games. He got the chance to try out a number of new faces and also has given a number of the lads that were in the squad last year who did not get much game time an opportunity to stake a claim.
“I was delighted to see Ciaran McGinley and Eoin McHugh get a chance. I feel they both should be in the squad this year.
“They have both done well in the three games. He got a look at Conor Parke, from St Eunan’s against Derry, a player I rate highly. He also got a look at Cory Gallagher from Dungloe and I thought Ryan Malley from Ardara played very well last Sunday against Fermanagh.
“He also gave a number of lads like Martin O’Reilly, Eamon Doherty, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, lads that have been in the squad for a number of years but did not get much game time from Jim McGuinness, a chance to show what they are made of.
“Hugh McFadden was another that got game time and I thought Hugh had a good game against Fermanagh. He showed well for the ball and set up a few scores and missed an open goal.
“Martin McElhinney is another player who got game time and I thought Martin played well against Queen’s and last Sunday in the first half against Fermanagh.
“With Rory Kavanagh having retired there is an opportunity now for Martin to step into that position.
“Christy Toye showed a good appetite for the game in all three games which is encouraging while I felt Michael Boyle did well in the two games he played in, against Derry and Queens.
“I feel Rory may rotate the goalkeepers in the league, with Paul Durcan in for say two games and then Michael for the next two games. It is only fair that Michael is given a chance.”
Last Sunday’s 0-12 to 2-5 victory over Fermanagh was Donegal’s last competitive game before they face Derry on Saturday week in Ballybofey, in Division One of the Allianz League.
Dublin, in Croke Park seven days, are followed by games in March against Cork and Monaghan at home, Kerry, away and Tyrone at home.
Donegal wrap up their league campaign away to Mayo, in Castlebar at the beginning of April.
“Survival in the league and holding on to our Division One status has to be the priority for the league. “We will probably need seven points to survive and with four of the games at home our best chance at doing that is in those home games.
“That would mean us winning at least three of our home games and drawing the other. It would be great going to Castlebar for the last game going knowing that we were safe in the division.
“It is important that we get a good start against Derry and get something out of that game and then target, Cork, Monaghan and Tyrone for wins.
“It is hard to see us going to Dublin and Kerry and picking up points. Dublin will be waiting for us after what happened in the championship and we don’t have a great record away to Kerry in the league.
“It is going to be a competitive league and every score is going to be crucial because it could all be decided on score averages.
“I think with the new management team and from what I hear the mood in the squad is good, I think we are good enough to hold on to Division One status. That is the main thing,” concluded Edmund.