Donegal begin defence of North West U-21 Cup against Sligo

Tom Comack

Reporter:

Tom Comack

Email:

tom.comack@donegaldemocrat.com

Donegal U-21s

Eoghan 'Bán' Gallagher will line out against Sligo, this afternoon

Donegal, the reigning champions, begin the defence of the North West U-21 title, with a home tie against Sligo, this afternoon in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny on Tuesday (throw-in 2pm).

It’s the first of at least three games for Donegal in the tournament which has been organised by Sligo GAA. The competition is in its second year.

Donegal won the inaugural tournament last year beating Sligo in the final, after Mayo failed to agree a replay date for the original final that ended in a draw between themselves and Donegal.

Derry and Mayo are the other two teams in the tournament. Derry have replaced Fermanagh who opted out this year.

Donegal face Derry and Mayo, the reigning All-Ireland U-21 champions, away from home. But these game are not due to be played until the Dr Kenna Cup in Ulster and the FBD Leagues in Connacht are completed.

January promises to be a busy month for Donegal U-21s and their manager, Declan Bonner.

In an unprecedented move, the squad will represent Donegal in this season’s Dr McKenna Cup.

Donegal will play three games in a little over a week and a half in that competition, beginning next Sunday with a home tie in Ballybofey against the Martin McHugh-managed University of Ulster Jordanstown.

They are also home to newly promoted Division One side Cavan, in Ballybofey, on Sunday week.

And then three nights later they go to Omagh to take on Tyrone.

This year’s U-21 squad is made up of players from the 2014 and 2016 Ulster winning minor teams, along with a number of players from the 2015 minor squad.

“We’ve a squad of 40 players in the panel at the moment,” Donegal boss Declan Bonner, told the Democrat.

“We are carrying a big squad because 14 of the them are in the senior squad.

“They are training with Rory Gallagher and we haven’t seen much of them so far, which isn’t ideal, and there are also a number of them carrying knocks and bruises.

“We also have a large number of lads at college out of the county. They are training with their colleges at the moment and they will be playing with their colleges in Inter-provincial competitions as well as preparing for the Sigerson Cup.”

Conor Morrison, Caolan McGonagle and Cian Mulligan are at DCU, Kieran Gillespie attends Dublin Institute of Technology University, and Christian Bonner and Colm Kelly are in NUIG, and are all tied to their colleges for the provincial competitions.

Bonner was hoping to finalise his panel at the weekend, but with a hectic round of games coming up, he may opt to stick with the extended panel for a little while longer.

Danny Rodgers, Kieran Gillespie, Conor Morrison, Cian Mulligan, Caolan McGonagle, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Ciaran Thompson, Jamie Brennan, Lorcan Connor, Ethan O’Donnell, Eamon McGrath, Michael Langan and Aidan McLaughlin from the last three county minor teams, are all members of the current senior squad. They will backbone the Donegal challenge to win the Mary McPartland Memorial Cup back to back.

“We are looking forward to getting up and running against Sligo, even though we have a hectic few weeks coming up,” Bonner said.

“But our main focus is on March 15th and the first round of the championship against Tyrone in Omagh.”

The teams play each other once, with the top two at the end of the league format meeting in the final.