This Sunday’s opening game the Allianz Football League heralds a new beginning for the Donegal senior team.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher is excited about the new season and former Donegal Children’s Officer, Mick McGrath is alsoc excited about the campaign ahead.
McGrath is looking forward to the new campaign and what he believes is going to be a successful new era for Donegal football.
Following the retirements of Eamon McGee, Colm McFadden, Christy Toye, Rory Kavanagh and David Walsh and the departures of Leo McLoone, Odhran MacNiallais and Anthony Thompson, manager Rory Gallagher was left with big boots to fill.
As early as last August and long before the retirement announcements and departures, the manager had turned to a crop of talented young footballers from the recent minor and U-21 teams.
“We have a very good crop of young players coming up through the ranks due to the good work being done by Declan Bonner and Shaun Paul Barrett with development and minor squads in recent seasons,” said Mick McGrath, who has worked with both Declan Bonner and Shaun Paul Barrett in his role as Children’s Officer over the last few years.
“Rory has drafted in 16 of those lads and they are now part of the senior and U-21 squads.
“A number of the older lads had been part of last year’s squad but the most of them are new.
“Rory spoke to them as far back as last August and they were all put on training programmes and they have all worked really hard and I expect to see at least five or six of them, maybe even more, in the league.
“They are all very talented footballers and it is a matter now of blending them in with the more experienced lads in the squad.
“We will have to be patient, too, with them and give them time to the step up to playing senior football. But as we witnessed during the McKenna Cup some of them have adjusted well and acquitted themselves well.”
Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Caolan McGonagle, Kieran Gillespie, Conor Morrison, Cian Mulligan, Stephen McBrearty, Christopher McLaughlin (Fildara), Rory Carr, Mark Coyle, Brendan McCole, Michael Langan, Jamie Brennan, Ethan O’Donnell, Jason McGee, Michael Carroll, Enda McCormick are the players in question and are all still U-21.
And with the exception of Enda McCormick, who is only in the senior squad, all the rest are in Declan Bonner’s U-21 squad.
The U-21s also have a big championship date away to Tyrone, in the middle of March.
Mick McGrath expects four or five of them to face Kerry on Sunday, either starting or from off the bench.
“Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Jamie Brennan, Michael Langan, Michael Carroll, Jason McGee and Conor Morrison are the players in the running,” added the Children’s Officer.
“Kieran Gillespie, Gaoth Dobhair, only for he is injured would be an automatic,” insists the former officer and Aodh Ruadh clubman.
He also insists that he has no fear playing them first day out against a team like Kerry.
“It’s at home and before a big home crowd who will hopefully get behind them and I expect Kerry will be a bit like ourselves, they will be trying out a number of young lads as well.
“They are all good footballers and I’m confident that they will be up to it and it will be a great experience for them playing against the top teams in the country.”
Five in-a-row chasing Dublin are once again the favourites with Kerry and Mayo, in that order, not far behind. He also expects Tyrone to do well and rates them as the fourth best team in the country, just ahead of Donegal, who despite the wholesale changes are still in the top five.
Mick McGrath would be happy with a top five finish in the league.