BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JIM McGuinness mentioned at various junctures of Donegal’s Division 2 campaign that he and his squad were ‘road testing’ various plans and tactics.
Without ever hitting high notes Donegal managed to win promotion back to Division 1, but the campaign ended with a disappointing final defeat to Monaghan at Croke Park.
Having ironed out the blueprints over the weekend during a weekend in Inishowen, McGuinness and his men, wounded from a sobering 2013 that saw their fingers freed from the handles of the Anglo-Celt and Sam Maguire Cups, head for Celtic Park this Sunday to a meeting with old foes Derry and an encounter with former Donegal boss Brian McIver, now in charge of the Oak Leaf.
Donegal are definitely without Rory Kavanagh, who serves a one-match suspension following his red card in the Division 2 final, while his midfield colleague Neil Gallagher remains in a race against time to prove his fitness. Over the weekend, the Glenswilly man trained under rehab. While the Donegal management hope to see Gallagher back in action on Wednesday night, time is not on his side and running out for the 2012 All-Star, who rolled an ankle on Friday-week last during training.
Martin McElhinney and Christy Toye appear the front-runners for the centrefield berths in the prospective absence of both Kavanagh and Gallagher, with Luke Keaney, Hugh McFadden and Conor Classon also vying for inclusion.
McGuinness feels that playing in Division 2 has been a benefit to his men as he has assessed his plans to unleash in the cauldron of Celtic Park this weekend.
“We came up against some really good teams and some of the games were really physical as well but the big advantage is that you are slightly under the radar,” he said.
“None of our games were televised with the exception of the league final and I don’t think Derry will learn much from that game. As we do every year we road-test things, we look at three or four things.
“I remember playing Laois a few years ago and we tried bits and pieces in it in Letterkenny and we were absolutely tanked. Things like that are difficult. Some of things we tried in the league this year worked really well and some of them were unexpected in terms of how well they worked, and some of them will be adopted.”
When his side run out on Sunday to face a Derry side both brimming from a sound Division 1 campaign and yet reeling from a drubbing by Dublin in the final, McGuinness will put some of those moves into action.
He said: “I think it’s important to do that, to stimulate the players as well. You set your sights on different things and you bring different things to the Championship.
“I suppose you’re trying to bring the strengths that you have with you because it’s important that you’re not hashing up everything and trying to reinvent the wheel.
“We know our strengths when we’re at ourselves and if you can add value – that’s the key thing. Probably out of the four or five things, two probably worked really well and one decent. And we’d definitely adopt two of them for the Championship.”
Paddy McGrath has been attempting to prove his fitness to the manager since returning last month from a lengthy lay-off that goes back to last August. Like Gallagher, the Ardara man is in a battle with the calendar.
2012 All-Star Mark McHugh left the panel last month and the indications are that Donegal may have a new system to unleash this weekend, having avoided deploying a sweeper during much of the League – a role in which McHugh specialised. Gary McFadden, Thomas McKinley and Antoin McFadden also left the panel following the League and last week for training purposes McGuinness took in Ardara duo CJ Molloy and Gareth Concarr, Buncrana’s Garbhan Friel and St Naul’s Barry Griffin.