THE OLD line about teams having ‘a good mix of experience and youth’ is something of a cliché in sport, but Rory Gallagher, the Donegal manager, will hope it rings true in 2016.
All of Gallagher’s experienced players have re-committed for next year, although there do remain question marks over the availability of double All-Star goalkeeper Paul Durcan.
Gallagher has brought in the biggest infusion of young blood into the county squad for quite some time, with a dozen new players – most of them from the minor and under-21 ranks – added to his panel as he readies them for another assault on the major honours.
There have been no retirements from the panel, although Declan Walsh has opted out as he completes his studies for an MBA, while Gallagher has released a further six players from the squad.
While the Donegal boss has brought in plenty of new blood, it is the fact that there have been no retirements that has kept the hopes alive.
Gallagher had held a series of meetings with the more experienced members of his group since the 2015 campaign ended with an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo in August.
“It’s great and it’s something that I very much wanted,” said.
“It’s as simple as this – if I didn’t feel they were good enough I wouldn’t be too keen to keep them.”
Although Paul Durcan has recently moved to Qatar, meaning his participation in the county jersey going forward is in doubt, none of the 2015 panel have stepped off the inter-county carousel.
However, Darach O’Connor and Michael Boyle face considerable lay-offs with both having underwent surgery on cruciate knee ligament injuries recently.
Boyle, who has been the replacement goalkeeper over the last number of years, went under the knife last weekend, meaning that Mark Anthony McGinley and squad newcomer Danny Rodgers will battle for the number one shirt from January.
Gallagher has opted not to recall Sean Hensey, Gary McFadden, Willie Gillespie, Cory Gallagher or Conor Parke for next year.
Eight of the new players were involved in the 2014 Donegal minor squad that reached the All-Ireland minor final, while Ciaran Thompson, Caolan Ward and Jack O’Brien were been members of the Donegal Under-21 panel, and Rory Carr was on the minor squad this year.
Gallagher, who has brought Brendan Kilcoyne onto his backroom team to replace the departed Gary McDaid, said: “They have all played on big days, albeit not at senior level. Yes, they’re young, but they’re very much capable of stepping up.”
Certainly, the likes of Michael Carroll, Stephen McBrearty, Kieran Gillespie and Eoghan Ban Gallagher won’t be fazed by the step up.
The raft of new faces is certainly the biggest recruit of youth in several years, perhaps since the first draft by Brian McIver in the winter of 2005.
Gallagher won’t be afraid to give youth its head next month, but time is of the essence with a competitive Allianz League Division 1 campaign underway at the end of January.
It is here where he will look more to the familiar faces.
Experienced members like Colm McFadden, Christy Toye, Neil Gallagher, David Walsh, Eamon McGee, Neil McGee and Karl Lacey have all opted to return to the fold for 2016.
Donegal were beaten by Monaghan in the Ulster final and lost out to Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2015.
Gallagher said: “We came back with a very clear intention to do our best to get back to the All-Ireland final. When you’ve had the success that we’ve had, that’s all we were interested in.
The draw for 2016 has pitted Donegal with either Fermanagh – Gallagher’s home county – or Antrim.
“First of all, we’re happy not to be in the preliminary round,” Gallagher said.
“We’re also happy to have the latest start possible.
“That’s nearly a month later than we started this year. That’s no harm as it gives us a good break between the League and Championship to really home in on.
“We have a few older men in the squad, too, who would be hoping to get started later so that means we can allow them ample time now.”
June 12, and the first Championship game, is the only date in the diary that will matter.
Between now and then, though, Gallagher will attempt to join the dots and when the summer rolls around can inform us with a wry smile how he’s managed to get that ‘good mix of experience and youth’.Tags: