Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Donegal face Cavan on Saturday night in round four of the Allianz National Football League, in Kingspan Breffni Park. (Throw-in 7 pm).
After three games, Kerry at home, Roscommon away, and All-Ireland champions Dublin at home, Donegal are sitting on three points from a possible six.
And for a team in transition following a winter of departures in Colm McFadden, Eamon McGee, Christy Toye, Rory Kavanagh, David Walsh and only last week, Neil Gallagher, they have reacted really well.
Leo McLoone and Odhran MacNiallais have also departed the stage and Anthony Thompson is pondering his future.
But time has rolled on and a crop of young players are being blooded by manager Rory Gallagher, and it is very much a case of so far so good for Jason McGee, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Ciaran Thompson, Caolan Ward, Michael Carroll and Jamie Brennan, who have stepped up as Donegal’s transition from a glorious cycle in the county’s GAA history.
Paul Brennan has also crossed the county and provincial boundary from Leitrim and has shown potential.
Jason McGee, who has only turned 19, Eoghan ‘Bán’, Ciaran Thompson and Caolan Ward in particular, have stepped up to the mark and have slotted into the team with surprising ease.
Former All-Star forward Adrian Sweeney is one of the players that made the transition the last time there was a change of the guard in Donegal football following the 1992 All-Ireland triumph.
The Dungloe clubman and 2003 All-Star corner-forward has really been impressed and somewhat surprised at the ease in which the younger players have made the step-up.
“The new lads are playing very well and the team overall is going well,” said Adrian.
“I have really been impressed with the young lads, Jason McGee, Ciaran Thompson, Eoghan Bán and Caolan Ward.
“If you look at them last Sunday, they didn’t look out of their depth playing against the All-Ireland champions.
“Take Jason McGee; he is only out of minor and he ended with 1-1 and had a very good game playing at midfield against Brian Fenton, one of the best midfielders in the game over the last two seasons.
“It is all very positive, given that the feeling was that these young lads would need a year or two to settle into the team and get up to the pace of the game at that level.
“I know from my own time it took me two to three seasons to bed into the team.
“It was a whole new surrounding, going into a dressing room with many of your heroes.
“Young lads nowadays may be different but it may also be down to the professional training that these lads are receiving at the development squads and with minor and U-21 teams.
“But it is all very positive and encouraging for the future.”
Sweeney would also expect that these lads will only improve when the pitches dry up and the ground gets firmer.
However, he does have words of caution, too, and would like a little higher strike rate up front.
Donegal hit 1-17 against Kerry first day out but they have only managed to score 2-9 against Roscommon and 2-5 against Dublin last Sunday.
“I know Patrick (McBrearty) was missing last Sunday, but it is an area we are going to have to improve in.
“It is good to see the young Jigger (Darach O’Connor) back; all he needs now is game time and he will be an asset up front.
“It is important that we find someone to fill Colm McFadden’s boots, which is a tall order. But if we want to move to the next level we need someone who will regularly chalk up big scores.
“Michael (Murphy) is putting in big shifts out the field and I even saw him back in defence at times on Sunday.
“The important thing now going forward is that the key experienced men like Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn and Ryan McHugh stay free from injury.”
Sweeney's other word of caution is that he hopes that no one starts getting carried away with how well things are going and that feet remain firmly on the ground.
As for Saturday night’s clash with Cavan, the Dungloe man feels it will be no walk in the park.
Cavan have only two games played. Last weekend’s game against Tyrone was called off due to a waterlogged Healy Park, Omagh.
They have just one point from those two games; a low scoring 0-7 each draw with Monaghan. They lost their opening game to Dublin, beaten 0-18 to 0-11 in Kingspan Breffni Park.
“Cavan will be dogged. It’s a four pointer, if Donegal win it should leave them safe while Cavan need to win if they are to be in with any chance of staying in the top flight.
“They have a lot to play for and at home in Breffni Park, they will have targeted the two points and you can be sure they will be up for the game in a big way.
“They will be up for it like our lads were up for last Sunday’s game against the Dubs. But if we continue to play the way we are and hopefully Patrick (McBrearty) is back we should win, but it will be tight.”