BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN PORTLAOISE
JIM McGuinness is hoping that rejuvenated Donegal can achieve their goals this spring to enable them to ‘push for the Ulster Championship’.
Donegal had the look of a side that had really benefitted from a few months of rest and recuperation, a landslide win over Laois setting a good marker on the opening day of the League.
A mixture of young and old impressed.
Four-time All-Star Karl Lacey was back at corner-back, Christy Toye was making his latest comeback, and the young guns like goalscorer Odhrán MacNiallais and Hugh McFadden, took whatever chances were handed to them.
“We’re very happy with that,” McGuinness said.
“I spoke about a couple of goals that we have for the League.
“The first one is to get the players who missed a lot of football last year, the players who needed operations, back in and expose them to game time.
“We got a good few of them on the pitch today, which was a positive for us.
“The other thing was about the young lads who did well in pre-season and the McKenna Cup, trying to get them exposed to game time. The hope is that we can expose them to enough and they can push on come the Championship as well.
“It worked out well today.”
McGuinness and his players have been working hard since December and the benefits have shown. Their fitness levels were commendable and there was something to admire in the manner in which they condemned Laois to the cold, concrete slab.
In a 38-minute spell, Laois were kept scoreless and Colm McFadden’s superb goal was among an uninterrupted 1-10 scored by the visitors.
“We are in ok shape,” McGuinness said.
“We laid a marker down early in the game and took it to the opposition.
“Our natural game in Donegal is a running game. We’re very comfortable with that and we ran it well in the first half against the breeze.
“We have a couple of very good inside forwards so you’re hoping that the mix of the running game and those inside forwards will give a mix of long and short ball, and a spread of scorers as well.”
McGuinness had used the word ‘irrelevant’ last year when he discussed the National League. Donegal were relegated and their League was of little use in the grand scheme of things.
“When Dublin kicked the last point in the last minute to relegate us, I wasn’t overly happy either!” McGuinness said yesterday in reference to that comment, made following a defeat by Down in Ballybofey.
The Donegal boss reiterated the importance of the likes of Neil Gallagher, Paddy McGrath and David Walsh, who are out injured at present.
This, he says, is where the League’s function is to blossom.
He said: “They are important players who are experienced in Championship football. Our job is to get them to the level through exposure.
“We didn’t have depth last year and we didn’t have the work done. We also had four rounds of the club championships so there were a lot of negatives.
“We want to be in a strong position this year to push for the Ulster Championship.”
The withdrawals of Lacey and Toye were precautionary, the manager confirmed, ‘with the big game next week’ in mind.
Toye played after Darach O’Connor felt a tight hamstring during the week. The Buncrana man is in his Leaving Certificate year at Scoil Mhuire.
McGuinness said: “He is trying to balance the study with the demands, so we’re trying to be vigilant about that as well.
“It’s unfortunate that Darach didn’t get in, but he will get his chance.”
MacNiallais hit a twelfth-minute goal and Hugh McFadden was taken on for an encouraging debut at a time when Rory Kavanagh was taken off in another precautionary move.
In another new move, Ryan McHugh played at corner back and McGuinness said of the Kilcar man: “He went in for a man marking job on David Conway. He did a very good job and added real value going forward.”
With Galway next up in Salthill, there is – despite a comfortable win – room to improve.
The Glenties man said: “We got caught for the goal and will look at that. The quality of the ball going in wasn’t what it should be for the quality of the players.”