County hurlers open at home to Armagh
By Frank Craig
Donegal hurlers get their 2020 season under way on Sunday with Armagh the visitors to O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny (throw-in, 2pm)
Mickey McCann will once again boss the side. The Burt man had taken some time to mull over his inter county future before finally deciding to stay on.
This will be his third season at the helm. Following a very encouraging 2018, where his side claimed the Nicky Rackard Cup, Donegal subsequently suffered relegation from the Christy Ring competition last season following a disappointing play-off loss to London.
To compound their misery, Donegal also dropped out of Division 2B. With some familiar faces back on board and with a crop of talented youngsters determined to make the breakthrough at senior grade; McCann says Donegal are aiming to hit the ground running on Sunday.
“Preparations have been going well,” he explained. “This is probably the best pre-season we’ve had in my time. It was something that I was looking for when I decided I was taking it again.
“We wanted to put a big shift in and get the fitness levels up. Everyone’s in good shape and the mood is very good because of that work. We’re in a very good place compared to where we were before the League last year.”
The manager said both he and the squad feel like they’ve something of a point to prove this term.
“Performances were very good at times last year,” he added. “We were in good positions in a lot of the games. We just didn’t have that cuteness or experience maybe to see it out.
“The other sides in Division 2 probably had that extra strength in depth. We also had a lot of key players missing last season.
“If we’d kept that panel together we feel we would have been able to hold our own a lot better in both the League and Championship. And maybe we’d still be there this season.
“But it is what it is. And the boys know, as do I, we didn’t do ourselves justice last year. We’re going to try to make up for that this time out.”
As for the extra bodies drafted into the mix ahead of the new term, he said: “We’ve Gerard Gilmore and Bernard Lafferty from Setanta back on board. They were both starting forwards in the Nicky Rackard final the year before.
“We also have a lot of young lads that now have a few seasons under their belts at this level. They have been pushing for their chance and a few of them will get theirs on Sunday.
“The likes of PJ McCarron of Buncrana, Conor O’Grady and Ryan Hilferty, St Eunan’s, they are all really stepping it up at training.
“It’s time we blooded a few of these boys and give them a run in the League to see how they fare out.”
O’Donnell Park is usually a happy hunting ground for the Donegal hurlers. With the Orchard men sure to be one of Tir Chonaill’s promotion rivals in the League, home advantage could well turn out to be the tipping point on Sunday.
“We really like it,” McCann said on the home of St Eunan’s. “Through the years we’ve had some good results there. We’re hard to beat and the home advantage is something that works for us. Armagh, we know very well.
“They’d the upper hand on us for a long time. We’ve had the better of it more recently. I think we’ve go the better of them the last two times now. So they’ll be looking to change that.
“Both sides will have designs on getting promoted. If we can match them in work rate and physicality I feel we have enough quality to get the right result.”
Donegal will also have a new skipper this season as St Eunan’s Sean McVeigh takes over the armband from Danny Cullen.
“It’s just to freshen things up,” McCann explained. “Sean is a great lad and it’s his time. The likes of Sean, Danny, Ronan and Christy McDermott, Joe Boyle and Declan Coulter are the lads that really drive the thing on for us. They are the boys that will be leading the younger lads on.”
Allianz Hurling Legue Division 3A
Sunday, January 26, Donegal v Armagh Letterkenny
Sunday February 2, Tyrone v Donegal Omagh
Sunday, February 16, Louth v Donegal Darver
Sunday, February 23, Donegal v Monaghan Letterkenny
Sunday, March 1, Longford v Donegal Longford
Nicky Rackard Cup
May 9/10 Armagh v Donegal
May 16/17 Donegal v Leitrim
May 30/31 Longford v Donegal