Donegal’s seven point Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final win over Fermanagh on Sunday last in Ballybofey has received mix reviews.
With some, the jury is out on this Donegal team, who lined out without four time All-Star defender Karl Lacey and double All-Star midfielder Neil Gallagher. And they also lost double All-Star full-back Neil McGee to a straight red card before half-time.
For others it was a more than adequate performance and with the influx of fresh legs the team looked back on track after a dismal five game losing run at the end of the Allianz League campaign.
One man who is firmly in the ‘cup is half full camp’ is former Donegal All-Ireland winning corner-back from 1992, Noel Hegarty, who was more than pleased with the 2-12 to 0-11 victory the Erne County.
“I don’t know what some people want or expect,” said the Naomh Columba clubman.
“I thought Donegal played reasonably well on Sunday. They won by seven points.
“Before the game I would have been happy with a two point win, after all we went into the game on a poor streak of having lost or last five games. And besides Fermanagh are a decent team.
“They had a strong finish to their league campaign beating Galway away and drew at home against Tyrone, and had a big preliminary round win over Antrim.
“It was a good, solid performance from one to 15 with Frank McGlynn, Odhran Mac Niallais, the two McHughs, Ryan and Eoin, Paddy McGrath and Marty O’Reilly playing exceptionally well.
“Mac Niallais scored two good goals. Frank McGlynn played a part in both goals and he handled the ball four times in the lead up to the second goal.
“Frank is a fantastic player and himself and the two McHughs (Ryan and Eoin) were the launching pad for the most of our scores in the second half.
“The big talking from the game was the Neill McGee sending off; he is going to be a huge loss for Monaghan, if he is not available for that game. I have heard that they are going to appeal the sending off, but I would not hold out much hope.
“But Neil is certainly the type of player we could do with against Monaghan. He is a big physical presence in front of the posts and he is the type of player that can do a good man marking job.
However, despite the probable absence McGee, the versatile Hegarty is happy that Rory Gallagher has a ready made replacement in four time All-Star Karl Lacey.
“From what I’m hearing Karl is flying in training and did not play on Sunday more as a precautionary measure in case he aggravated a calf injury he picked up a few weeks ago.
“But the word is he will be fine for Monaghan and I would like to see him given the job of marking Conor McManus.
“He is the man, in my opinion, for that job. He went in corner-back the day we played Roscommon in Letterkenny and he had a great game so is a ready made replacement of Neil McGee, if it is a thing we don’t have Neil.”
In his ten years in a Donegal shirt Noel Hegarty played in almost every position on the field with the exception of goalkeeper. He bemoans the loss of Neil Gallagher to the Donegal engine room out around midfield.
“I’m not sure what the situation is with Neil Gallagher. He didn’t play last Sunday and has played no football this season worth talking about so far and while I hear he back in training, I can’t see him playing against Monaghan.
“He is a huge loss too. He gives us a great presence in the middle of the field and is great ball winner and we could do with him against Monaghan. They are strong around the middle third.”
Hegarty is also a little concerned about the fitness of Michael Murphy who he noticed only took one free from the ground last Sunday; all the rest were out of his hands.
“Hopefully, he will have shaken off whatever is bothering him by Saturday week. We need Michael on full power against Monaghan.”
Despite the more than likely absence of Neil McGee and the highly unlikely prospect of Neil Gallagher being ready in time, Hegarty is quietly confident that Donegal can turn the tables on Monaghan and avenge last year’s one point Ulster final defeat.
Donegal shot something like 19 wides in last year’s final and still only lost by a point, if only two of them had gone over we would have won..
“Monaghan are a good side and I’m expecting a real cat and mouse tactical battle. Monaghan will be physical but our lads know them well to expect that and to be ready for them. Ryan and Eoin McHugh and Marty O’Reilly bring a freshness to the team that I feel has brushed off on the older fellas.
“It will be close and I’m not expecting a very high scoring game. But I expect Donegal to win. Monaghan have been around a few years now and there are no great changes in personnel.
“I’m backing Donegal because on balance we have the better footballers.”