BY CHRIS MCNULTY
NEIL Gallagher has returned to the Donegal panel for Sunday’s game against Galway, with Christy Toye handed a starting berth as Jim McGuinness’s hand gets a little more stronger.
Ahead of their trip west to face the Tribesmen in Salthill’s Pearse Stadium (throw-in, 2pm), Donegal have confirmed that Toye will play at centre-forward having had to leave his return game against Laois because of a facial injury.
Gallagher’s return to the substitutes bench is also a big boost, with the Glenswilly man now cleared of a hamstring complaint that had niggled over the last few weeks.
The 2012 All-Star midfielder is expected to see game time on Sunday and it wouldn’t be an altogether massive surprise were he to be elevated to the starting team come throw-in time.
David Walsh remains sidelined with a grade two hamstring injury, while Paddy McGrath (Gilmore’s groin) is nearing full recovery, although Eamon McGee is still out as he serves the second of a two-game suspension.
It all means that McGuinness’s deck is a little stronger again and there could yet be a chance for Darach O’Connor to get among the match-day 26 on Sunday. The Buncrana teenager, who missed Sunday’s win in Laois due to a hamstring injury, was due to train again last night, Thursday, and will have been assessed thereafter as to his availability.
McGuinness has named an unchanged team for Donegal’s trip. Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey were also withdrawn on Sunday, both having had minor hamstring injuries of late, but McGuinness confirmed these were precautionary measures and the duo will be on duty in Galway.
After getting off to a winning start in O’Moore Park, McGuinness is hoping that his team can go into the three-week League break with maximum points before they welcome Monaghan to Letterkenny on Sunday, March 2.
“We don’t want to lose momentum now,” the Donegal boss said.
“We want to be in a strong position this year to push for the Ulster Championship.
“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.”
Despite a comfortable win on Sunday, McGuinness says that there is room for improvement from his side, who laid down a marker at the weekend.
He 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.”
Thomas McKinley is also absent with hamstring trouble, but McGuinness has been able to field a very strong team again and with Gallagher in reserve his options are certainly on the increase with both Rory Kavanagh and Martin McElhinney comfortable around the half-forward sector.
The 2-19 scored on Sunday in Portlaoise was encouraging but was perhaps even more noteworthy was the Donegal performance. Granted it was against a very disappointing Laois but, nonetheless, it was a clinical, ruthless and, for the most part, defensively-stubborn performance by the Tir Chonaill men, who managed to get ten different scorers during the seventy minutes.
Galway hit 4-11 against Meath at the weekend, but Alan Mulholland’s team conceded 3-18 and lost.
It would be a turn up for the books if the maroon men manage to flip the lid on Donegal. That said, the goals scored on Sunday by Sean Armstrong, Michael Martin, Tom Flynn and Gary Sice offered moments of encouragement, but there was concern that they led a lead slip having powered five in front (3-6 to 2-4) when Flynn fired home.
Mulholland is aware of the challenge that awaits this weekend, too.
“Again, we will be really trying hard to get something from this match. We knew from the start that Meath and Donegal would be tough – now we just have to knuckle down to what’s in front of us at Pearse Stadium on Sunday,” the Galway boss said.
However, Mulholland admits that his team remains in a transition.
Michael Meehan is sidelined with an ankle injury and a lengthy injury list contains the names of Garreth Bradshaw (ankle), Conor Doherty (knee), Gary O’Donnell (hip), John O’Brien (groin) and Keith Kelly (hip), while there are doubts over the fitness of Dave O’Connell (finger), Greg Higgins (hip) and Mike Farragher (hamstring) and a further blow was received this week when it was confirmed that full-back Colin Forde had transferred to Kingdom Kerry Gaels in London.
Mulholland feels his side was playing second fiddle during the second half last Sunday.
He said: “We had fought back very well in the first half and if we had scored the penalty we’d have a five point cushion by the break, but I’d have to say that Meath were a lot stronger than us in the second half.
“We were a bit behind them at certain stages during the game, but we are waiting for a few players to come back and we will be getting stronger as the year goes
“We did hit Meath hard on the break and when we moved the ball quickly, we created a lot of chances. It was a very open game of football – they could have scored a bit more but then so could we. There was some amount of chances created on either side.”
With Donegal in the mood, this one should go the way of the visitors, who appear to have the weapons to prevent a shoot-out similar to what transpired in Navan.
Verdict: Donegal showed last week why they’re fancied to top Division 2. Galway are unlikely to be as obliging as Laois but, conversely, Donegal’s rearguard won’t be as porous as the Meath backline that shipped 4-11. Donegal to bag the points and the 11/10 odds on Donegal with a -3 handicap appear generous.