The Donegal minors get their season underway tomorrow night (Tuesday) when they travel to Brewster Park, Enniskillen, for the opening game of this year’s Ulster Minor League (7.30 p.m.).
After a disappointing year last year which saw them exit the Ulster Championship in a disappointing manner to Derry after overcoming Cavan in the first game, the management are confident that the side are in a much better place this year.
“I’m very happy with the preparations. Last year the management team weren’t appointed until November. This year we are much better prepared. We were able to see the players in the minor championship and we had a lot of work done even before training began,” said manager Stephen Friel, who felt that the preparations were three months ahead of where they were last year.
“It is like night and day. We have a fixed panel and although a few like Michael Dignam (broken leg) and Tomas Boyle (foot injury) have not been involved, we have not ruled them out,” said Friel.
However, the management are resigned to being without one of their top players, Stephen McBrearty, who is due to have knee surgery. “Stephen was someone who was high in my plans but it looks increasingly unlikely that he will feature,” said Friel, who said he had been advised that McBrearty (younger brother of senior star Patrick) will need six to eight weeks recovery after surgery. It is learned that McBrearty has not had the operation yet.
“Oisin Carr is struggling with a hamstring injury and we may not see him until April,” said Friel.
Apart from that, the management are pleased with their preparations which included challenge games against Mayo and Sligo in recent weeks. Friel feels that his panel have much more strength in depth this year.
“That is one of the pleasing things. I feel we have 23/24 players who could play against Tyrone (in the championship).”
Among the newcomers are big Peter McLaughlin of Buncrana who will feature at midfield, while Patrick Gillespie of Naomh Muire is sampling county football for the first time and performing very well.
“That, for me, is one of the features of this year. Patrick Gillespie didn’t feature in development squads yet has made the step up. It is a good example that players can still have a window of oppportunity at this level,” said Friel, who said Gillespie and Lee Friel of Cloughaneely would be in the starting line-up tomorrow night.
McLaughlin will feature at midfield alongside Conor Harkin while his first cousin, Darach ‘Jigger’ O’Connor will lead the attack. The Buncrana starlet, who has been given a trial recently for the U-21, is son of former Roscommon great John ‘Jigger’ O’Connor.
Donegal had a big win over the Maguire county in the corresponding game last year in Convoy, but they will travel to Enniskillen with a number of injury worries, including Aodhan McGinley, Eamon McGrath and Calum Gallagher.
They have David Tyrell (an outfield player with St. Eunan’s) tussling for the goalkeeping position with Padraig Byrne of Naomh Columba. Tyrell has been doing a Stephen Cluxton, coming up field to take long range frees and that experiment is likely to continue.
The full Donegal minor panel is:
James Brennan, Bundoran; Eamon Mc Grath, Aodh Ruadh; Aiden Sweeney, Termon; Jack Scally, Dungloe; Eoin Scally, Dungloe; Colm Kelly, Aodh Ruadh; Peter Mc Laughlin, Buncrana; Patrick Gillespie, N Mhuire; Lee O’Brien, Cloughaneely; Eoin Ban Gallagher, Killybegs; Darrach O Conner, Buncrana; Bruce Waldron, Buncrana; Paddy Byrne, N Columba; Conor Mc Eniff, St. Eunan’s; Conor O Donnell, St. Eunan’s; Jack O Brien, N Mhuire; Oisin Carr, St. Eunan’s; Jordan Mc Bride, St. Eunan’s; Hugh Yank Gallagher, N Mhuire; Lorcan Connor, Downings; Cian Mulligan, Gweedore; Conor Mc Cormick, Carndonagh; David Tyrell, St. Eunan’s; Martin Byrne, Kilcar; Conor Harkin, Burt; Calum Gallagher, N Brid; Stephen Jones, N Columba; Aodhan Mc Ginley, Kilcar; Stephen McBrearty, Kilcar; Daire Mc Daid, Termon; Alan Russell, Bundoran; John Campbell, Buncrana; Niall Friel, Gweedore.