BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT OWENBEG
RORY Gallagher’s first game in charge of Donegal ended in an eleven-point defeat to Derry, but you didn’t get the feeling that the Fermanagh native will have too many sleepless nights over this one.
It was very much a fledgling Donegal side that took to the sod at Owenbeg, with just two of their participants – Martin McElhinney and Dermot Molloy – having played in September’s All-Ireland final.
By the end, seven players had made their debuts for Donegal and the 1-16 to 0-8 scoreline won’t be dwelt upon too much by either manager.
Emmett McGuckin got away from 33-year-old debutant Eamon Ward for the Derry goal after 16 minutes. Leading 1-5 to 0-5 at half-time, Derry really took charge in the second half and pulverised Donegal in winning possession from kick-outs. From here, they had the platform to kick on and claim a deserved win, the margin of which might have been greater but for a fine save by Michael Boyle to thwart Conor McAtamney.
“It was a disappointing second-half performance,” Gallagher said.
“We played quite well in the first half but we conceded a bad goal. We were caught with a short kick-out and then Eamon Ward was caught with the man (Emmett McGuckin) in behind him.
“Derry were miles better in the second half. We were probably lucky enough in the end up that we weren’t beaten by more.
“We had a very inexperienced team out. We maybe just had a lack of quality at times, but it was the first time out for a lot of them.
“I was quite pleased with the first half. Eunan Doherty did quite well, Gary McFadden grew into and Willie Gillespie and Hugh McFadden got a bit of ball inside.”
There were first Donegal appearances for Ward, Conor Park, Ciaran McGinley, Eunan Doherty, Joe Gibbons, Ryan Malley and Malachy McDermott. Eoin McHugh’s only previous senior experience was one McKenna Cup tie against St Mary’s two years ago, while Willie Gillespie and Cory Gallagher played twice in the same campaign. The big news on the team front was the return of Mark McHugh, nine months after he quit the panel following last year’s National League campaign.
The new manager said: “The way we approached it was that we’d keep our more experienced players off and give them a pre-season as such to improve. That’s the choice we made because it’ll be better for the boys in the long run.
“It’ll be tough for them to take today on the chin, but we explained to them in the lead-up to it that it’s an individual thing and about how they can handle it. We’ll hope to develop two or three of them.
“We were realistic in what we expected. It’s back to more hard work on Tuesday and Thursday night.”
Gallagher hopes to be able to include Paddy McGrath, Declan Walsh and Odhrán MacNiallais in next weekend’s clash with Queen’s, while the trigger will be pressed on the big guns for the League.
Gallagher said: “They’re all training, it’s just a matter of when we’ll integrate them in.
“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. That’s the immediate goal as such. The aim is to get the 2014 squad up to speed by then. I fully expect to have the majority by that game.
“The reality is that the Tyrone game in May is the long-term priority, but we want to be competitive in the League and we want to survive in the League. That’s the number one goal and we want to be fairly strong for the first two games, against Derry and Dublin.”