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Now for the serious business

It was an incredible year for Jim McGuinness and his team.

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

Donegal’s McKenna Cup campaign came to a low-key ending on Wednesday night in a 1-14 to 2-10 win over St Mary’s College in Ballybofey.

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Two weeks from tomorrow, the 2012 All-Ireland champions will roll out the heavy artilary again when the National Football League opens with a clash against Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare in Croke Park.

None of Donegal’s big guns and few of the All-Ireland winning panel were used during the McKenna Cup, but with the senior panel having returned to training last Thursday things are starting to take shape for them again.

The 2012 Football of the Year, Karl Lacey, is out for the duration of the League due to a hip injury, but the news elsewhere on the injury front is fairly positive.

Mark McHugh has been sidelined with osteitis pubis of late, but the Kilcar man is back on a running programme and, according to Rory Gallagher, the Donegal assistant manager, ‘won’t be far away’ for the start of the League. Neil Gallagher is back at a specialist today, Friday, and he too is in the not-far-away bracket for the opening night of the NFL.

David Walsh (shoulder) is unlikely to be available for the opening two League games, but is said to be ‘progressing well’, while Rory Kavanagh is back in training and captain Michael Murphy will get back on the pitch this weekend.

Last week, Jim McGuinness said that he was on the look out for ‘one player’. On Wednesday night, Gaoth Dobhair’s Odhrán MacNiallais played 49 minutes having missed the opening two games with flu’ – and he hit 1-3 in an eye-catching display.

Yesterday, Rory Gallagher said of the 20-year old, who will be added to the extended Donegal panel: “Odhrán has been involved with us before, but for him even with the club last year it was very stop-start. He’ll be playing for the under 21s but he’ll train with us and we’ll be trying to build him up.

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“He definitely showed some class against St Mary’s.”

Bundoran’s Shane McGowan will also be drafted into the National League panel having impressed on his return to their senior set-up in the games against Fermanagh and Monaghan.

Final decisions on the panel going forward will be made by McGuinness and Gallagher this weekend, following another McKenna Cup campaign that won’t have bearing for the prospects of the Donegal senior footballers in 2012.

Gallagher said: “It was well documented that we didn’t have a whole lot of interest in it, but we used the opportunity to look at the under 21s and give them a run at senior level.”

On Wednesday night, Maxi Curran, the under 21 manager, again called the shots on the line for a team that contained eleven starting under 21 players.

Gallagher said: “It wouldn’t have been fair to put out the full under 21 team against Fermanagh or Monaghan, bearing in mind that those teams have been back in training for a couple of months and were fielding fairly strong teams.

“There were slight mis-matches that way. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have played any of our senior panel after they’d just come back from the holiday.”

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