Neil Gallagher and Mark McHugh are Donegal’s only injury concerns this week ahead of Sunday’s crunch Allianz National Football League clash with Kerry in Sean MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey. (Throw-in 2 pm)
All-Star midfielder Gallagher has been struggling with a hamstring problem in recent weeks and while he played the full 70 minutes in last Sunday’s 1-13 to 0-12 defeat to Tyrone, the injury has been bothering him again this week.
Mark McHugh suffered a calf injury in the closing minutes of Sunday’s feisty encounter with the Red Hands and was replaced by Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy.
“Neil Gallagher and Mark McHugh are our only injury worries at this stage,” Donegal assistant manager Rory Gallagher told the Democrat last night.
“Neil has the injury for a few weeks now and he just cannot seem to shake it off and while he played on Sunday and came through Sunday’s game all right, he had a slight wee twinge afterwards and he didn’t train on Thursday night.
“Mark didn’t train either on Tuesday night but we are hopeful both of them will be able to train tomorrow night (Thursday) and we will see how they go after that. At this stage we would be reasonably hopeful that they will be both fit to face Kerry.”
Sunday’s game is a crunch encounter for both counties with the prospect of relegation looming large for both and especially for the team that loses this weekend.
Donegal have just two points from their three games to date and with away games still to come against Cork next weekend, followed by Mayo away and the high flying Dubs at home, points are going to be precious.
Kerry, who are under a new manager in Eamon Fitzmaurice, are in an even more precarious situation. The Munster county and the holders of 19 National League titles have yet to win a game in this campaign after losing to Mayo, Dublin and Kildare.
Kerry’s three remaining games are pretty testing too and include Cork away, fellow strugglers Down at home and Tyrone in Healy Park.
“It’s a big game all right and the losers will be in trouble in what is a very tight league,” Rory Gallagher added.
“We certainly want to win on Sunday and to hold on to our Division One status and it will be the same for Kerry.”
The Donegal assistant is not buying into the theory that Kerry are not going well and even admits to being wary of the challenge the mighty Kingdom will provide on Sunday.
“We are not playing all that well ourselves we’re only playing in fits and starts. I know they struggled in their first two games against Mayo and Dublin, but by all accounts they played well last week against Kildare and were unlucky to lose.
“They had a number of Dr. Crokes players back. We went down to Kerry last year with a strong side and they were short a good few of the regulars and they taught us a football lesson.
“They have Cian O’Neill, who trained Mayo last year, as their trainer this season and I expect them to have a sharper edge to them than you would normally see from Kerry teams.
“We are the All-Ireland champions and they will be up to lower our colours on our own patch.”
While Dr. Crokes players including new captain Eoin Brosnan, Kieran O’Leary, Johnny Buckley and Fionn Fitzgerald are all back in the Kerry squad, Colm ‘the Gooch’ Cooper is taking an extended break.
Indeed the word emerging from the Kingdom this week is that the Gooch, one of the leading forwards in the game for the best part for the last decade, is expected to sit out the entire league campaign.
New Kerry skipper Eoin Brosnan will not need reminding that his last trip to Ballybofey turned into something of a nightmare when he deflected an injury-time Colm McFadden free to his own net.
Kerry were leading 1-7 to 0-8 at the time and looked to have done enough to bag all two points. But the goal turned the game on its head and Donegal ended up winning 1-8 to 1-7.
Donegal trained on Tuesay night and will train again tonight with Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher to run the rule over the injured duo of Neil Gallagher and Mark McHugh, before they sit down to put pen to paper and name their starting 15.