THE BANK OF IRELAND Dr McKenna Cup gets underway on Sunday when Donegal take on Down in Ballybofey. Here are five things that Rory Gallagher, the Donegal manger, will be looking for in the competition.
- Solving his goalkeeping connundrum
IN RECENT years, the goalkeeping slot was one position that Donegal seemed in safe hands with, but since the summer that has become rather less so.
Paul Durcan has relocated to Qatar, where he has taken up employment. It remains to be seen if the Donegal town man will return to play for Donegal in the 2016 Championship but, in the short term anyway, Rory Gallagher is planning without him.
Durcan flew in for Ballyboden St Enda’s Leinster SFC final against Portlaoise and remains Donegal’s top custodian, but his location means he’ll watch from afar.
Ordinarily, Michael Boyle would have been promoted, but the Termon man is recuperating from a cruciate ligament operation and will miss the best part of the 2016 campaign.
Mark Anthony McGinley and Danny Rodgers are the men now vying for the number 1 shirt and the indications are that both will be given ample time in January to show their respective credentials.
- Unearthing a new gem
WHEN Jim McGuinness handed Odhrán MacNiallais his head in the Dr McKenna Cup in 2014, he challenged the Gaoth Dobhair man to make the spot his own.
MacNiallais featured in every game that season, in the McKenna Cup, League and Championship, after impressing significantly in January.
A sound McKenna Cup in 2014 laid the foundations for MacNiallais, who is now considered among the first choice players in the Donegal squad.
Darach O’Connor was another who raised his hand in the same McKenna Cup campaign and was handed starts in the Ulster and All-Ireland finals of 2014. The Buncrana man is unavailable now because of a cruciate injury, but Gallagher will hope that some of his new recruits can challenge for inclusion come the Allianz League.
- An injury-free January
PERHAPS the most important note on Gallagher’s wish list is for an injury-free McKenna Cup campaign.
Given the competitive nature of the Allianz League campaign, with Donegal keen to stay in the mix and avoid relegation, Gallagher will want to take a full arsenal into February.
The indications are that most of his regulars from the 2015 team will see action in January, although Martin McElhinney and Anthony Thompson are recovering from surgery and may not be involved.
Keeping the treatment table empty is one of the prime objectives for the competition.
- Advancing to the semi-finals
DONEGAL teams of recent years haven’t appeared to take much heed of the McKenna Cup and there was even the suggestion during Jim McGuinness’s reign as manager that they would go as far as not entering.
That never materialised, but it was a good indicator on where the competition lay on the priority list.
Now, though, it appears as if Rory Gallagher sees value in the competition.
Although the Allianz League throws-in with a game against Down at the end of January, Gallagher has already spoken of his desire to advance out of their group and into the knockout phase.
“The core group have had a good, extended break this year,” Gallagher said recently.
“We definitely intend to field strong teams to give us the best chance of qualifying. We’d love to get out of the group and get an extra game or two.”
- Extending the squad and the cover
A RECENT study by Rob Carroll of Gaelic Stats, showed that Donegal had used the lowest number of players (41) in Championship football since 2010.
It is in stark contrast to the likes of Derry, who have used 70 players in the same timeframe.
While a pointer to the experience within the squad, where the likes of Patrick McBrearty has already clocked up 30 Championship appearances, it could perhaps be suggested, as it has in the past, that Donegal’s numbers are ‘light’.
Although Kerry (43) and Dublin (45) aren’t far behind, the general body of opinion is that Donegal’s pool wouldn’t be as deep as those two counties.
In certain areas, Donegal are low on cover, but the McKenna Cup will offer a chance for Gallagher to run the rule on those areas and on players he believes can step into the breach.Tags: