BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN ARMAGH
CHRISTY Toye could make his long-awaited Donegal comeback in Wednesday night’s Dr McKenna Cup game against Queen’s University in Ballybofey (throw-in, 8pm).
The experienced St Michael’s man has not played for Donegal since coming on as a sub in the 2012 All-Ireland final.
He missed the entire 2013 campaign as he was suffering from Trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder, whilst also undergoing surgery recently to correct a knee injury.
He played for his club during 2013 and was recalled by Jim McGuinness, who is a big fan of the Creeslough native.
“There’s a good possibility that Christy will get to play a part on Wednesday and that’s great for him,” McGuinness said yesterday after a 1-10 to 0-11 win over Armagh at the Athletic Grounds which keeps alive their hopes of making the semi-finals of the competition.
Karl Lacey made his first competitive start of the year, playing the full 70 minutes, while Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher and David Walsh were welcomed back for the first time in 2014. McGee and Walsh played the entire second half while Gallagher played twenty-two minutes.
The trio could be in from the start against Queen’s – who are captained by St Michael’s man and Donegal panelist Martin McElhinney – but McGuinness will leave that in the gift of the squad’s medics.
The Donegal manager said: “We’re trying to move it steadily and we’re hoping we don’t lose anyone in the process. It’s worked really so far.
“They’ve all come back and they’ve not got a recurrence with a groin or a hamstring or anything like that. We don’t want to force them into 70 minutes. We’ll leave it to the physios and the people who are rehabbing them.
“We have a lot of injuries who are not fit enough for high intensity football but we want to integrate them between now and the end of the league. We want to bring them up to a level for the summer.”
The likes of Paddy McGrath and Patrick McBrearty will take a little longer to get back into competitive action in the green and gold. On February 2nd Donegal open their Division 2 campaign with an away game at Laois – with McGuinness insisting that playing in the second tier will be no cakewalk for his men.
He said: “We’re in Division Two and that’s the place we are. Division Two is a tough place to be; everybody still wants to win the matches.
“We have to balance game time with winning matches and injuries. The medical people have done a really good job and we’ll keep taking their advice to move them forward.”
While McGuinness has gone for a largely strong panel and teams for the McKenna Cup he has still be able to experiment. At the outset the Glenties native said the aim was to find an additional player or two for his team heading into the League. To that end, he was again encouraged by the displays of Darach O’Connor and Odhrán MacNiallais yesterday in Armagh.
He said: “Both Darach O’Connor and Odhrán MacNiallais have done really well in pre-season. They’re pushing very hard for game time. They’re both good footballers and we want people that will push; we want a healthy squad. Both can really add value to the squad. If they can push for a start or even some game time we would be delighted.”
MacNiallais scored two late points and was excellent throughout while O’Connor contributed another good 70 minutes.
It took a Colm McFadden goal in the 61st minute to light the fuse for Donegal, who trailed 0-7 to 0-3 at the break.
Captain Michael Murphy and MacNiallais each hit a brace as Donegal struck late to take the win. McGuinness said: “The bottom line is we came here to get a good workout and we got a good workout and we got the result.
“That’s the big positive for me looking forward to the next couple of weeks. We’ve four or five men coming back into the fray again, men who haven’t been in the jersey in a while.
“In the last ten minutes of the first half, we got tired and they got the scores, then in the last ten minutes of the second half they tired and we got scores.
“They got scores with the breeze and the same happened for us in the second. There was a hefty breeze. Once we got level I had a feeling that we would win the game.”
Donegal are in with a shout of making the semi-finals, but will need a big win over Queen’s to make it through with several permutations still alive heading into the final night of action on Wednesday.
McGuinness said: “It’s about getting a good run-out and we got that today. We got players back out on the pitch and that’s good progress.
“If we got an extra game we’d take it but we’ll get a game in any case – we’ll arrange one or play an in-house game.
“We will look and see who needs a bit more game time. We’ve tried to spread it throughout the Dr McKenna Cup.”