BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL manager Jim McGuinness remains hopeful that corner-back Paddy McGrath will return to full fitness next month.
The Ardara man hasn’t played for Donegal since last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo.
McGrath was suffering from a Gilmore’s groin complaint, but subsequently had to have surgery to repair a damanged groin tendon, which has delayed his return.
“He has a bit to go, but Paddy is moving in the right direction,” McGuinness told the Donegal News.
“He had to have the surgery and it ended up being more than a Gilmore’s groin problem.”
McGuinness hasn’t placed an exact date for the return of the teak-tough defender. However, an apt St Patrick’s weekend return for the away game against Down seems a likely starting point at this juncture.
“It all depends no on his rehab. We don’t honestly know how long it will be. Monaghan might be a bit too soon for him and maybe the game after that (Meath) as well, but maybe the next one. We’re keeping a close eye on him as the weeks go on and we’re monitoring him every night he comes in to us
“We’re hoping he’s not too far away and all going to plan he’ll get a good bit of game time under his belt by the end of the National League.”
David Walsh has been downed by a hamstring injury of late, but is on track for a return in the March 2 clash with Monaghan in Letterkenny. Thomas McKinley has also suffered hamstring trouble in recent weeks, but is on the mend.
Darach O’Connor has missed the opening two League wins away at Laois and Galway after suffering a hamstring injury on the back of a promising McKenna Cup campaign by the Buncrana teenager, who seems set to see game time against Monaghan.
McGuinness said: “He possibly could have played on Sunday, but we just didn’t want to take a chance with it.”
Neil Gallagher, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn have all been welcomed back in recent games, while Karl Lacey – who missed most of last year – has seamlessly got back into the fold again.
On the whole, the news is good from McGuinness, who would have a full deck to shuffle with the inclusion of McGrath.
He said: “We just want to get the whole squad fit again. It will be a juggling match for a while in terms of getting them on the pitch for game time and also bringing these young lads through.
“If we can keep everyone healthy and get their fitness up to Championship level then we’ll be happy. There are a lot of ifs and ands in there. We just want to keep on the vein that we’re in. By the end of the National League hopefully everyone will have had sufficient game time played.”
It’s a far cry from the predicament he found himself in last year.
McGuinness said of 2013’s injury woes: “It was demoralising last year on the back of 2012. It got to a point where you didn’t want to see a medic coming near you at all. Any time you saw them coming it was just like: ‘What bad news is it now?’
“We have managed them well over the winter and we’re still in the process of building them steadily.”
Donegal will return to training tonight after Tuesday’s session fell victim to the weather.
McGuinness said: “It was disappointing not to be able to get together on Tuesday night, but there wasn’t much we could do. In one way it might have done no harm to have a wee break after a couple of tough weeks.”
Meanwhile, five Donegal players have been selected on the Ulster squad for Sunday’s M. Donnelly Inter Provincial Football Championship semi-final against Leinster in Navan (2pm). Manager Joe Kernan has called up Michael Murphy, Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh, Neil McGee and Eamon McGee.
Donegal have the second highest representation with Tyrone having seven players in the panel.