Big changes for Donegal
The announcement of the retirement of Christy Toye, Rory Kavanagh and David Walsh means that 10 of the 19 players who played a part in the 2012 All-Ireland final will not be available to Rory Gallagher this year.
That includes Anthony Thompson, who, hopefully may return later in the year.
It is a major changing of the guard with five retirements added to the opting out of Leo McLoone and Odhrán Mac Niallais. The others from the 2012 final who will not be involved this year include Paul Durcan, Ryan Bradley and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy as well as Eamon McGee and Colm McFadden, who announced their retirements after the defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year.
We have been blessed in Donegal to have had such footballing talent over such a long period. The longevity of service by the likes of Christy Toye and Rory Kavanagh is remarkable while David Walsh, even though troubled by injury for a number of years, continued to give loyal service far beyond the call of duty.
We will forever remember the quality goals scored by Christy Toye, especially in Croke Park. He would surely have challenged his clubmate, Colm McFadden, for the appearance record in Donegal if he had not suffered injury and illness, which cut two chunks out of his career. He was a favourite of so many Donegal supporters, playing the game the way it was meant to be played.
No doubt Noel and Rose will continue to go to Donegal games. Noel will now be able to speak his mind after having to stay quiet for the last 15 years!
Rory Kavanagh had already retired but came back last year, probably in the hope of getting that fourth Ulster title, which has proved elusive.
David Walsh, while not always a first 15 choice, was a very positive influence in the squad. His ability to carry out team plan and also his easygoing and friendly nature was a big influence on the younger members of the squad.
It is never easy to walk away, especially from a Donegal squad who have got used to being in the top six in the country over a prolonged period.
Colm McFadden and Eamon McGee were acknowledged for their contribution at the GAA Banquet before Christmas and, no doubt, this trio will be similarly acknowledged at the end of this year.
Young guns step up
We went to MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, on Sunday with some trepidation with the understrength U-21 side facing UUJ in the Dr. McKenna Cup. We should not have worried.
The young guns really stepped up to the plate and put on a performance that gave the attendance of less than a 1,000 a game to remember.
Scoring 4-13 and still ending up on the losing side was an injustice. Donegal did not deserve to lose this game.
We were helped that we were playing against a team who were out to play football and for that we must thank UUJ manager, Martin McHugh, who ensured it was a relatively open game of football.
What really impressed about the Donegal performance was the all round workrate allied to a number of exceptional individual performances.
Stephen McMenamin continues to impress me and looks more like a swashbuckling Neil McGee every time I see him. Even though he was only back training a short time after surgery, he was excellent.
The others who really stepped up were Eoghán Bán Gallagher, Michael Carroll, Michael Langan and Niall O’Donnell. Niall Friel, too, put in a very good shift in a sweeper role.
The quality of the Donegal scores was impressive.
The apprehension which was in the air had well and truly evaporated by the end of the game.
They have to go again this Sunday and again on Wednesday night next - against tougher opposition in Cavan and Tyrone, both of whom will be looking to qualify for the semi-finals, so they won’t be holding back.
But, no matter what the results in those games, as long as Donegal can produce a performance from start to finish, there will be positives.
One piece of advice I would give in relation to the U-21s - the management and indeed the players keep talking to the press about the 15th March and the meeting with Tyrone in the championship. It might be better to keep that theme in-house and not talk publicly about it. By mentioning that date every time they speak before and after games is putting pressure on the shoulders of young players, some who are just 18 and 19. The build-up can be low-key on the outside but intense on the inside.