BY CHRIS MCNULTY
YOUNG guns Odhrán MacNiallais and Darach O’Connor have been rewarded for a positive McKenna Cup campaign by being selected in Jim McGuinness’s starting XV for Sunday’s National Football League opener against Laois at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise (throw-in 2pm).
Twenty-one year old Gaoth Dobhair man MacNiallias and Buncrana’s eighteen-year old starlet O’Connor both showed good promise in the McKenna Cup and have been given starts on Sunday as Donegal return to Division 2 of the League.
MacNiallais isn’t a new member to the panel, but Sunday will be his first National League start, his only previous being a cameo role against Dublin last April, with O’Connor coming in for his League debut against Tomas Ó Flatharta’s team.
MacNiallais is named at wing-forward with O’Connor joining Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden in the full-forward line.
O’Connor was last year’s Minor captain and also starred for the Donegal Vocational Schools, as well as helping his club, Buncrana, to win the Donegal Minor title.
Both have now been given their chance for further inclusions after being given the vote of McGuinness, who is aiming to hit the ground winning in the League.
“They have worked really hard during the McKenna Cup and it’s great to see those players coming in and doing well,” he told the Donegal News.
“They’re in on merit.
“They have come in and added value to the squad.
“It’s now about progressing the lads who have been injured and about moving the other lads forward in tandem with that.
“The players who are coming back, can they rediscover their form? The lads who have come in, can they progress? That’s what we’re aiming to find out from the League.
“We need to understand where we are and we’re hoping to build fitness in the squad.”
2012 All-Star midfielder Neil Gallagher misses out through a hamstring injury, with David Walsh also hamstrung.
However, there are significant boosts to the team with Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey named in the starting line-up, with students Ryan McHugh and Martin McElhinney also listed from the off.
Lacey was out for much of last season, but the four-time All-Star is back with avengeance again in 2014 and is named at corner-back. Ryan McHugh is named in the other corner, but the exact positioning will be interesting with a possibility that Declan Walsh may yet be elevated.
It is likely that Christy Toye will also see game time on Sunday. The St Michael’s man played against Queen’s in the McKenna Cup for what was his first appearance in the green and gold since the 2012 All-Ireland final. Toye has returned following a lay-off through illness last year.
Also among the subs are Patrick McBrearty and Hugh McFadden, who is still waiting for his first apppearance having been injured for the McKenna Cup campaign.
Paddy McGrath has yet to be welcomed back with the Ardara man continuing his recover from a groin injury while Eamon McGee serves a suspension for the opening two games, against Laois and Galway.
Laois: Graham Brody; Denis Booth,Mark Timmons, Peter O’Leary; Darren Strong, Padraig McMahon, Adam Ryan; Kevin Meaney, John O’Loughlin; James Finn, Donal Kingston, Billy Sheehan; Ross Munnelly (captain), Evan O’Carroll, David Conway.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Karl Lacey, Neil McGee, Ryan McHugh; Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson; Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney; Mark McHugh, Dermot Molloy, Odhrán MacNiallais; Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy (captain), Darach O’Connor. Subs: Michael Boyle, Christy Toye, Declan Walsh, Eamon Doherty, Gary McFadden, Hugh McFadden, Leon Thompson, Luke Keaney, Matthew Smyth, Patrick McBrearty.