BY CHRIS MCNULTY
RORY Kavanagh looks set to return to the Donegal midfield for Sunday’s Ulster SFC semi-final clash with Antrim (St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 2pm).
The St Eunan’s man was suspended for the quarter-final win over Derry, but is back in the reckoning again as Donegal look to make their fourth Ulster final in succession.
The experienced midfielder has had a minor knock in the last fortnight, but Donegal manager Jim McGuinness expects to have a full-strength panel from which to choose.
The return to fitness of Neil Gallagher as well as Kavanagh having the disciplinary sheet cleaned after sitting out the Derry game presents McGuinness with a quandary.
Martin McElhinney, after a fine second half against Derry, is also in the hunt for a starting spot.
What seems certain is that Kavanagh – who had been Donegal’s most consistent performer up until his red card in Croke Park – will take one of the centrefield spots.
The question of who drops out is where the problem arises given that Christy Toye contributed so well in the first half of the Derry game and Odhrán MacNiallais has gone under starter’s orders in each of Donegal’s League and Championship games so far this year.
Second-guessing McGuinness’s next move is a futile exercise, bearing in mind the approach to Derry when he left McElhinney in reserve on a day when neither of Gallagher or Kavanagh started.
Darach O’Connor made his Championship debut and Paddy McGrath his first Donegal appearance since last August in moves that many would have considered gambles. His cards were kept close to his chest, but McGuinness rolled up holding a royal flush with the moves that introduced McElhinney and Gallagher and sent Michael Murphy into the full-forward line.
“Having Rory and Neil available again to start creates more opportunities,” said the Donegal manager who can again be expected to keep the powder dry.
“It’s a big game and the stakes are high. The team that wins will be in an Ulster final – that is a huge prize that’s on offer.”
Antrim won their first Ulster Championship game since 2009 with their quarter-final success over Fermanagh at Brewster Park and McGuinness has warned that the Division 4 county are capable of causing an upset.
He said: “We’re very well aware of the threat Antrim will bring. I got my eyes opened a bit watching them against Fermanagh.
“They kicked 1-10 in the first half – that’s very impressive shooting no matter where you’re playing, but especially in Championship football. The game looked to be over, but they switched off for a wee period. We know what they’re coming with and they have some very good, very experienced footballers.”
Antrim will be without Michael Armstrong owing to a hamstring injury, but Kevin Niblock and Tony Scullion have dusted off knocks and will be available for selection.
The Donegal minors are hoping to start the day in a positive manner for Donegal. Declan Bonner’s young guns also face Antrim (12noon).
Donegal haven’t been in an Ulster minor final since 2006, when the seniors were also involved on finals day. That chance presents itself on Sunday again.