FROM CHRIS MCNULTY AT OWENBEG
RORY Gallagher expects to have the bulk of Donegal’s heavy artillery back in tow by the time Derry roll up to Ballybofey for the opening National League game of the year on January 31.
Gallagher’s tenure as Donegal manager got underway yesterday as a very experimental side lost by eleven points to Derry, 1-16 to 0-8, at Owenbeg in the Dr McKenna Cup.
Just two players – captain for the day Martin McElhinney and Dermot Molloy – lined out having seen game time in the 2014 All-Ireland final.
Of those who were at Jim McGuinness’s disposal last year, Gallagher anticipates that the majority will return to action in the coming weeks.
The exceptions, for now at least, are Rory Kavanagh, Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone.
32-year-old Kavanagh had a long, arduous season with St Eunan’s in the weeks that followed the All-Ireland defeat by Kerry and has yet to decide on his future.
Thompson is currently based in England for work and his future is unclear, although the new manager suggested in a weekend interview that the Naomh Conaill man was ‘keen’ to play at some stage in 2015.
“Anthony’s fairly clearcut, he’s working in the UK at the minute, himself and his girlfriend are both over there. We’ll just have to monitor the work situation,” Gallagher said in Owenbeg.
McLoone has decided to ‘take a break’ from the county set-up, but will be spoken to again, like Kavanagh, before the beginning of the League.
“We’ll not rush any of them,” Gallagher said.
“We’re waiting on Rory. He had a long club season and we’ve left him into January. He’s one of the oldest members of the squad.”
Gallagher confirmed that the remainder of the big guns will be back in the fold.
He said: “The rest of the boys are back: The McGees, Colm McFadden, Neil Gallagher. They’re all working their way back.
“The boys only came back on the 29th so we put them on a three-week programme. Ten or eleven of them trained this morning before we left Letterkenny. It’ll be a matter of when we feel they’re ready.
“The hope is to be as strong as we can be for the Derry game in the League.”
Gallagher gave debuts to Eamon Ward (Glenswilly), Conor Parke (St Eunan’s), Ciarán McGinley (Kilcar) and Eunan Doherty (Naomh Conaill) from the start yesterday, while Joe Gibbons (Glenswilly), Ryan Malley (Ardara) and Malachy McDermott (Moville) made first Donegal appearances off the bench.
Emmett McGuckin’s 16th minute goal had Derry 1-5 to 0-5 in front by the break with Donegal kicking ten wides in the first half. Donegal hit just two points from play over the 70 minutes and Derry were well in command during the second half.
Gallagher revealed that he had planned to field a more experienced side.
He said: “We intended starting Paddy McGrath, Declan Walsh, Odhrán Mac Niallais and Darach O’Connor. They’d be four fairly experienced players, but three of them had the flu’ and Declan had a tight hamstring. That really left us with no choice.”
McGrath, Walsh and MacNiallais may return for the game against Queen’s University on Sunday in Ballybofey.
Meanwhile, Gallagher’s backroom team will be rubber-stamped by the County Board and an Executive meeting on Thursday night with Gary McDaid and Maxi Curran set for prominent roles having been on active duty at Owenbeg yesterday.