BY CHRIS MCNULTY
FOOTBALLER of the Year Karl Lacey looks set to miss the entire National League programme – but Jim McGuinness, the Donegal manager, wants to make sure that his quadruple All-Star is ready to face Tyrone in the opening Ulster Championship clash on May 26th.
Lacey had surgery on a hip injury on December 22nd and the predicted 14-16-week period of absence rules him out until Donegal’s final Division 1 game, against Dublin on April 7th. However, Jim McGuinness has conceded that Lacey may not play until the All-Ireland champions come up against Mickey Harte’s Tyrone as they start the defence of the Anglo-Celt Cup in May.
“He’ll be missing for most if not all of the League, which is disappointing,” conceded McGuinness.
“The operation went well and we’re happy with that. He is back walking on it and he’ll be back jogging on it in a couple of weeks. It’s a case then of building it up. He’ll be out for a while though.
“It would be a bonus if we got him back for the end of the League.
“The fact that he is mobile means there is no wastage and he’s engaging the muscles.”
As well as the corrective surgery on the hip, Lacey underwent other procedures to remove some bone that had been grown on the ball and socket joint and to remove some floating bone from his cartilage.
McGuinness said: “Karl is a player who is a very important player to us, but he’s a player who picks up a lot of heavy knocks in games, whether purposeful or not. We’ll make sure everything is done very professionally in terms of getting him back. We want to make sure that he’s perfect when he does get back.”
On Wednesday night, a very experimental and youthful Donegal team lost their opening McKenna Cup game against Fermanagh, 2-15 to 2-07, in Enniskillen.
However, McGuinness has insisted that everything from their first training session last night will be with Tyrone on their mind. Donegal are looking for an Ulster three-in-a-row in 2013 – a similar scenario as Tyrone were in 2011 when Donegal toppled them. Donegal have beaten Tyrone in each of the last two Ulster Championships – and McGuinness doesn’t need told that Harte will come down the track with a serious test.
McGuinness said: “Our focus is the 26th of May, it was the same last year and the same the year before. There is no bigger game in Ulster than Donegal v Tyrone. Our full focus is on that match. Everything is about that match.”
Christy Toye is currently sidelined with a virus, with damaged shoulder ligaments keeping David Walsh out, while Mark McHugh is resting due to an osteitis pubis injury and Neil Gallagher also has a knock.
“It’s a matter of nursing them and trying to get as many as possible back for the League,” McGuinness said. Barry Dunnion is also continuing rehab work on his own in a bid to get fit.
McGuinness has also confirmed that Peter Witherow is leaving the panel to head to Australia, joining the retired Kevin Rafferty as the withdrawals from the 2012 panel.
The manager said of his McKenna Cup hopes: “There are gaps to be filled and if we get the right man that’s what we want to do. We’re happy with the squad we have, they’re young and they know what we’re about at this stage, but obviously we’re always on the look for someone to add some value – even in terms of the intensity in training.”
Meanwhile, Setanta have confirmed that they will show three of Donegal’s National Football League games live. The Saturday night games against Kildare (February 2nd), Down (February 9th) and Cork (March 16th) will all be screened by Setanta.