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Neil McGee set to return for Donegal clash with Dublin

Neil McGee will return for Donegal against Dublin on Saturday night 
Gerry Maguire

National Football League Division One: Dublin v Donegal 
(Saturday, Croke Park, 7pm, live on Setanta Ireland)

NEIL McGEE is expected to be back in action for Donegal ahead of tonight’s testing Division One match against reigning National League and All-Ireland Champions Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday.

Colm McFadden is also coming a step nearer to making a long awaited comeback for the first time since late last summer. Team manager Rory Gallagher also confirmed yesterday that the door is still wide open for towering keeper Paul Durcan.

Three-time Allstar McGee was both injured and suspended for the last encounter against Roscommon in Letterkenny, a match in which Donegal slipped to their second consecutive defeat. McGee suffered a nose injury in a testy affair with Kerry and was also subsequently handed a one-match ban following a controversial incident with Kerry’s Alan Fitzgerald.

The Gaoth Dobhair man was due to appeal the ban on the week after the Roscommon match, but has changed his mind in the interim. McGee has recovered from the nose injury, but has achieved some local fame as a songwriter has penned a ditty entitled the Nose of Tralee.

“I decided not to go ahead with the appeal as I had missed the Roscommon match anyway and it would only mean a long trip up to Dublin”, said McGee.

But the return of the commanding and combative McGee is a big boost for Tír Chonaill as he was badly missed at the heart of the defence against a rampant Roscommon side. His older brother Eamon filled in, but had an uncomfortable time against a very lively Rossies attack that strolled through the centre of the Donegal defence in a one-sided opening half.

Donegal also badly missed the calming presence of the injured Frank McGlynn who is suffering from a hamstring problem. On the plus side, four-time Allstar Karl Lacey made a welcome return against the Connacht men.

Lacey has ravaged by injury in recent times and has made a gradual comeback to the Tír Chonaill. But it is very clear that Rory Gallagher is choreographing the return of his senior players to peak for the Championship.

Neil Loughran, Andy Watters and Cahair O'Kane run the rule over this weekend's match-ups in Division One:

 

The Donegal boss’ main priority would be to get as many games in the NFL as possible. Those two recent defeats to Kerry and Roscommon will merely sharpen the focus as he prepares for the long trip to Croke Park. Dublin are in splendid form, and seems to have a veritable tsunami of talent bursting to make an impression.

Donegal will go into this encounter as arch underdogs against a Dublin side that has a truly formidable record in Croke Park, although Cork and Kerry made matters interesting for considerable periods in earlier rounds.

Mathematically, it is still possible for Donegal to go down, but it would take a really strange combination of results to consign them to Division Two. But this happened as recently as 2013 when a last gasp Dublin draw in Ballybofey and some other strange results sent Donegal down to a lower division.

So team boss Gallagher realises that Donegal might need two points from their last two outings to be absolutely safe for another season. But their league record against the Dubs does not make soothing reading.

Dublin have won 13 of the sides’ 21 meetings to date, with Donegal winning six and just one draw. The Dubs came out on top in last year’s encounter by 2-10 to 0-11 in a feisty affair in Croke Park. But Gallagher is looking forward to testing his side’s mettle against the All-Ireland champions.

“It will be a good test for us as Dublin are always hard to beat in Croke Park but it is something we are looking forward,” he said.

Gallagher confirmed that McGee should be available after shaking off a groin niggle: “Of course he is a very big player for us and we are hopeful that he will be able to start against Dublin.

“If it was a Championship match, we would be starting Frank McGlynn but we don’t want to be any chances with his hamstring”.

And even though mathematically, Donegal could yet be facing relegation, it is not something that has exercised Gallagher unduly: “We have not thought a lot about it and normally six points could be enough to stay up but we could yet need another two points to be safe.”

Unlike other years, Gallagher has an almost fully-fit squad as he targets the Championship opener against the winners of Fermanagh and Cavan in ten weeks’ time: “Karl Lacey is also back and going well as is Christy Toye and we are hoping to have Michael Boyle, Rory Carr and Darach O’Connor also back in contention shortly.”

So things are decidedly looking up chez Tír Conaill as Paul Durcan could also be coming back into the frame: “We said we let him focus on Ballyboden but I will be having a talk with him down the line.”

As for Saturday night, while Donegal might test the Dubs for long periods, it looks like a narrow home victory.

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