Donegal's second game in the 2019 Dr. McKenna Cup will provide manager Declan Bonner with a better yardstick regarding how some of his younger players are shaping up.
This afternoon Donegal meet Down in Newry while on Wednesday they will conclude their Section A games with a home clash against Cavan in Ballybofey.
Donegal opened their account with a comfortable 0-21 to 0-11 success over Queen’s University in Ballybofey, last Sunday.
But a much stiffer challenge awaits in Pairc Esler as Down, under new boss Paddy Tally tend to have defences that are as tight as Fort Knox and with the added stricture of the much derided three hand pass rule, Declan Bonner’s boys might struggle to get goals.
And this was a very well made point by the irate Donegal team boss after last Sunday’s match as he was adamant that the limit of three hand passes was stopping goals because players were forced to kick the ball.
He does have a point as most goals tend to come from some pretty lengthy hand passing moves, with Donegal’s Ryan McHugh a noted exponent of coming off the shoulder and scoring vital goals.
As for Sunday, it is doubtful that Tur Conaill will get as much as they had against Queen’s against a Down side that was just pipped by a point in an away fixture to Cavan.
Donegal fielded a mixture of youthful players with some grizzled veterans for last Sunday’s leisurely opener.
Caolan Ward was located at full back but looked a tad shaky in the opening 20 minutes against the impressive Conor Hughes.
Eamon Doherty was centre back while a stronger looking Eoin McHugh made a welcome return to county colours and kicked two fine points with his left foot, while the youthful Peadar Mogan had a productive game before he was replaced.
Jason McGee looked very dominant in midfield for the first half but seemed to tire, but remains a valuable towering option.
Up front, Michael Langan and Ciaran Thompson were the chief scoring threats while Lorcan Connor also worked hard, but Niall O’Donnell and Jamie Brennan were very quiet.
Bonner ran the bench with Marty O’Reilly and Paul Brennan adding further points, while Martin McElhinney also got game time.
Paddy Dolan and Oisin Gallen have also joined the panel this year and did not feature, but could see some service in Newry.
Down also fielded a pretty experimental side last week under new boss Tally and showed true grit to come back on two different occasions to level matters towards the end of a hard fought encounter in Breffni Park.
But more worryingly, they did not score for half an hour of play, either side of half-time.
Still the did manage to find the net after Conor Poland was hauled down in the square by a Cavan defender.
And the impressive Pat Havern converted the resultant penalty with aplomb.
Havern could be a big threat to Donegal in the absence of Connaire Harrison and Kevin McKernan.
Down did have a great start and led by 0-4 to 0-1 after nine minutes, but could only score twice thereafter until he 57thminute.
This lack of consistency could be a concern for them against a Donegal side who have some clinical finishers in Michael Langan and Ciaran Thompson.
Of course Declan Bonner is still looking for fresh talent in the unavoidable absence of the Gaoth Dobhair players.
Speaking afterwards he told the press that Sunday’s panel was pretty much what he would be going with.
One assumes that is for the group games and should Donegal advance to the semi-finals you could see the return of some more experienced.
But for now, Michael Murphy, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn and Ryan McHugh could be held in reserve.
Add in the Gaoth Dobhair contingent of Neil McGee, Daire O’Baoill, Odhran McFadden/Ferry, Cian Mulligan, Odhran MacNiallais, Micheal Carr and Stephen McMenamin of Red Hugh’s and you see why Donegal has such great strength in depth.
And don’t forget the mighty Paddy McBreaty and Gaoth Dobhair’s promising Ciaran Gillespie who are both recovering from long term injury.
And while Niall O’Donnell was pretty quiet on Sunday he will certainly have much better days.
Also, you can see why ex Mayo boss Stephen Rochford decided to make the long trip to the north west.
These are exciting times for Donegal GAA with plenty of youthful talent coming through from minor and U-20 age groups.
On Sunday much of this youthful talent will get a chance to shine and Bonner will probably be tempted to continue to provide a strong “backstop” on the bench in the shape of Martin McElhinney, Paul Brennan and Marty O’Reilly to throw on when needed.
It’s a long trip to Newry and Down will present difficulties, but this Donegal side is more than capable of continuing their good run.
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