BY RYAN FERRY
DONEGAL will look to build on the strides they made last year, when they begin their 2014 NHL campaign against Fermanagh in Fr Tierney Park, Ballyshannon on Sunday at 2pm.
Ray Durack’s team enjoyed a terrific 2013, and they concluded their season by defeating Roscommon to lift the Nicky Rackard Cup in Croke Park in June.
That success proved to be a big boost to hurling in the county, and the team are looking to push on again this year.
They have been training hard with Michael Black in Optimal Fitness over the last number of months, and Durack says his panel are eager to get back in action.
“We’re looking forward to getting going. Our preparation has been good and our training has been going well. The lads are itching to get out onto the field and get some gametime,” said Durack.
“We’ve been doing a lot of strength and conditioning and we’ve been training at O’Donnell Park. It can be hard to get pitches at this time of the year, but we’ve got by and everything is starting to come together.”
Durack has selected a panel of 32 players for the forthcoming season, and although they have lost a few members of last year’s panel, Durack has introduced a few new faces and the squad has a stronger look this year.
Marty Bonner (Setanta), Eugene Organ (St Eunan’s), Johnny Downey (Burt) and Tyler Lafferty (Sean MacCumhaills) have all joined up the panel, while the Aodh Ruadh quartet of Chris and Kieran Kilgannon, Paul Hughes and Stephen Sherrin will also be part of Durack’s squad in 2014.
“We’ve lost a few from last year. Stephen Boyle has emigrated, while a few other lads have decided to drop out.
“But we have brought in a seven or eight men to the squad and that will freshen things up. We have a panel of 32 players now, and it’s going to be hard to get a place in the team.”
Fermanagh are playing in the Lory Meagher Cup this year, and Donegal will be clear favourites to win Sunday’s tussle. However, the Erne men put it up to Donegal in last year’s league, and Durack is expecting more of the same in Ballyshannon this weekend.
“It’s going to be a tough opener for us, as Fermanagh have a good young side. We’ll show them respect, but we won’t fear them.
“We wouldn’t have played against them that much at senior level recently, but we beat them in the league last year and in the semi-final of the Ulster under 21 shield. They are bringing through a lot of young players through and it won’t be easy.
“We might be a bit ring-rusty in the first few games, but the team will settle and we’ll look to improve with every game,” said the Galway native.
Donegal were defeated in the Division 3A final last year by Fingal, and Durack says his team are determined to make up for that disappointment this season.
“That was probably our worst game last year, and we just didn’t perform. You get days like that when it just doesn’t go for you, but the boys have made it one of their goals to win Division 3A this year.
“We want to get out of this league and win the league final. We also want to defend the Nicky Rackard Championship that we won last year, and win promotion to the Christy Ring Cup.”