BY CHRIS MCNULTY
RYAN McHugh is set to make his first senior football championship start for Donegal in tomorrow’s All-Ireland round 4 qualifier against Laois in Carrick-on-Shannon (throw-in, 5pm).
The 19-year old Kilcar player is expected to be given the nod to start the game in the absence of his brother, Mark, who was discharged from Letterkenny General Hospital on Tuesday evening having been kept in for two nights.
His lay off is expected to be around three weeks after the heavy challenge with Stephen Gollogly left him with a series of injuries: concussion, a torn quad muscle and a perforated ear drum.
The absence of Donegal’s specialised sweeper could mean that younger brother Ryan may be deployed in a similar role for the clash with Justin McNulty’s team.
The Donegal starting XV will be a closely-guarded secret this week, but it is almost certain that the younger McHugh’s inclusion and that of Neil Gallagher, the All-Star midfielder, will be two of the changes made by Jim McGuinness.
In last Sunday’s Ulster final, Gallagher’s introduction from the bench after 20 minutes helped Donegal to be competitive in the middle third and the Glenswilly man will get the nod from the first whistle this time around.
Declan Walsh, David Walsh, Martin McElhinney and Ross Wherity are others who will have their hands up for a selection that is unlikely to be revealed until close to throw-in.
With the exception of McHugh, Donegal are at full-strength. Karl Lacey, despite looking like he was struggling to be at his usual pace, is reported to have come through the 70 minutes last Sunday with no ill effects shown on his troublesome knee.
“Karl came through it well and the positive is that the knee has no pain,” Rory Gallagher confirmed to the Donegal News.
“He was flying at training (on Wednesday night) again.”
Just over 24 hours after their Ulster final defeat to Monaghan, the Donegal squad met on Monday night in the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny to begin the recovery process.
Donegal will be the first All-Ireland champions to face a six-day turnaround from a provincial final defeat. Only one team – Down in 2012 – has successfully negotiated a six-day turnaround.
“The real positive is that we have a chance to re-ignite ourselves,” said Gallagher.
“I’d expect to see a change this week.
“The boys are itching to get out. They weren’t happy with the performance of the result last week, so it’s better that we have a chance to put things right straight away now.”