DONEGAL hurling manager Mickey McCann says his side face a ‘crunch’ league encounter against Wicklow in O’Donnell Park today at 2pm.
McCann’s charges have been beaten in their opening two games by Kildare and Derry.
The Burt clubman hopes that those two teams will go on to be the strongest counties in the league, and his side’s target is to avoid the Division 2B Relegation play-off.
However, that will be a difficult ambition to fulfil if they don’t get the two points on offer in Letterkenny.
“This is a crunch game for us,” said McCann.
“The two bottom teams will meet in a play-off. It looks like Derry and Kildare will probably beat everyone.
“I’d be hoping that we would beat Warwickshire, and Wicklow have already beaten them.
“If we could win this week, and beat Warwickshire that would leave us on four points.
“That would mean that Wicklow would have to pick up points off someone else, and even at that, we would still have an edge on them on head-to-head, so it really is a massive game this week.”
McCann was encouraged by his team’s showing in their first game against Kildare.
They started well the next day out against Derry in Ballinascreen too, but the Oak Leaf county soon took control, and they ended up convincing winners on a scoreline of 3-18 to 0-12.
“We looked at the video from the Derry game and analysed it.
“We had 50 per cent of the possession, but we missed 19 chances between wides and shorts.
“When you add in that we gave away three very soft goals, there’s no doubt that we contributed to our own downfall. You can’t afford to do that against a team like Derry.”
Donegal won the Nicky Rackard Cup last year, and impressed in Division 2B.
However, there has been a big shift in personnel this time around with Davin Flynn, Gerard Gilmore, Jamesie Donnelly, Bernard Lafferty, Enda McDermott, and Kevin Campbell unavailable for a variety of reasons.
That has left McCann with a youthful panel, and he is happy to give the up-and-coming stars an opportunity to establish themselves.
“It is a young team there, and Kevin Kealy and Dylan Duffy are coming on a lot just from playing at this standard.
“Jack O’Loughlin is back in this year and he had a very good game against Kildare and a good first half against Derry.
“You have Gavin Browne as well and they are two new faces and they are fit young men.
“The key is staying in games and making it come down to the last 10 minutes and then we’re hoping that we have the fitness that will make the difference.”
Donegal have played Wicklow regularly in recent times, and the Garden county have had the better of it.
The sides met in Aughrim last season in the league, with Wicklow winning by 2-21 to 0-21.
“We went down to Wicklow last year and had a very good game against them.
“We were a wee bit slow in starting and that can happen when you are away like that.
“We were nine down with 65 minutes gone and it wasn’t looking good for us.
“We managed to get that back to two points and went for the win but we were caught out at the back and conceded another goal.”
Wicklow romped to victory over struggling Warwickshire in their first game, but were then taken back down to earth when Down beat them by 11 points in Aughrim two weeks ago.
Donegal don’t fear their opponents this week, but their record isn’t good against them.
“I don’t think we have ever managed to beat Wicklow.
“They always seem to be able to keep hold of their position in the division.
“They’re used to playing at a higher level in the league, and they were in the Christy Ring last year as well, and that will stand to them.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game for us, but we will give it our best.”
McCann has injury concerns in his defence with Padraig Doherty, Stephen Gillespie, Mark Callaghan, and Gavin Browne all carrying injuries, and some of those players will require late fitness tests.
Donegal enjoy playing in O’Donnell Park and won all their games at that venue in 2018. They will aim to make the most of their home comforts again today.
“We’re at home and you have to try and win your home games.
“Kildare was a tough one first up, and we were looking for a good performance and to see how we measured up against them.
“I thought we did very well that day, but we struggled against Derry and we’ll be aiming to rectify that now.
“We have put in a lot of hard work at training, and our trainer Gabriel O’Kane was able to up the tempo a bit over the last two weeks.
“We’re at home and we like playing in O’Donnell Park, so hopefully we can get the result.”