FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN PORTLAOISE
LIFE back in Division 2 could hardly have begun better.
Jim McGuinness stood in the lengthy corridor of O’Moore Park yesterday evening, after witness his side blow Laois to shreds in recording a thirteen-point win, and mused that his squad was ‘in a better position, probably, than we’ve been in the four years’.
The Glenties man, after beginning his fourth season in charge of Donegal, bore a look of contentment.
Odhrán MacNiallais and Colm McFadden netted the goals on a day when the positives outweighed, by some distance, the negatives. It was, perhaps, their best collective display since the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork, though the opposition here should be taken into context.
In short, Laois were abysmal, in Tomas Ó Flatharta’s first League game as their manager. Donegal kept them scoreless for 38 minutes, during which time Donegal scored 1-10 and Laois had their corner-back Denis Booth sent off for a high tackle on Mark McHugh.
Donegal had ten different players on the scoreboard yesterday, one of whom was Christy Toye, making his first League start since March 24 2012. Aside from a brief appearance last month against Queen’s, this was his first competitive outing since the 2012 All-Ireland final.
And what a return it was from the veteran St Michael’s man. He was involved in all of Donegal’s first-half tally of 1-6, including a neat score himself in the 23rd minute.
He missed all of last year after suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a rare nerve disorder.
“Christy did a brilliant job for us,” McGuinness acknowledged.
“It hasn’t been easy for Christy at all. Through that whole thing he has worked very hard and been very dilligent. He has done all the rehab, which isn’t easy when you’re on your own most of the time. He has got himself into good shape.
“I’m delighted for Christy on a personal level. He needs to push on now and use the League to build and build and build, as do the others, David Walsh, Neil Gallagher, Paddy McGrath, who are still coming back.”
Toye was withdrawn in the 53rd minute with a nasty cut, while Karl Lacey’s substitution was also precautionary, ahead of next weekend’s visit to Pearse Park in Salthill to take on Galway.
Lacey was also back for his first piece of League action since 2012, the Four Masters man missing last spring because of a hip injury.
On his returned stars, McGuinness said: “They’re moving forward and finding their feet in the squad. We have six or seven players who have had to have operations.
“They’re out the other end of that now, whereas last year we were losing them. We need to manage them and not overcook them. We have to expose them without burning them out.
“We are in a good position now as regards the squad, but we need to manage it now.
“Hopefully then the lads, Odhrán MacNiallais and Darach O’Connor, guys like them, can push on too.”
O’Connor had been named to start, but was replaced by Toye due to the Buncrana teenager feeling a tightness in his hamstring.
MacNiallais, meanwhile, hit 1-1 on the occasion of his first League start, while a brilliant second goal, by McFadden just 70 seconds into the second half, opened the floodgates.
Killybegs’ Hugh McFadden made his debut in the second half and hit two points, while Stephen McLaughlin of Malin made his first League appearance.
Onwards now for Salthill, to a Galway team beaten in a 3-18 to 4-11 thriller by Meath yesterday.
McGuinness said: “We don’t want to lose momentum now.”