GAA Football

Donegal won't be fielding U21 team in McKenna Cup to make up numbers - PRO

Declan Bonner will be managing the Donegal side in this year's McKenna Cup
Gerry McLaughlin

DONEGAL will be fielding an all-U21 side in next week’s Dr McKenna Cup, but they will not be doing so “just to make up the numbers”.

That was the firm message from Tír Chonaill PRO Ed Byrne as he confirmed the county would be fielding an all-U21 side, managed by Declan Bonner. There are 14 U21 players on Rory Gallagher’s senior panel and all have been training with the senior squad since the start of the month.

But there are around 12 of those who are not available to Donegal as their colleges have first call on their services: “It is an unusual but fairly optimistic situation as we have never had so many talented youngsters coming through at the same time,” said Byrne.

“The problem is that around 12 of them will be playing with their colleges in various competition and a number of our senior players are also unavailable.”

Ryan and Eoin McHugh are committed to UUJ with Hugh McFadden needed by DCU, while Martin O’Reilly is in Queen’s. Meanwhile, U21 stars Conor Morrison, Caolan McMonagle and Cian Mulligan are lining out with DIT, while Lorcan Connor is part of Martin McHugh’s Ulster University side.

Elsewhere, Eoghan Gallagher and Jamie Brennan are representing Sligo IT, while Colm Kelly and Christian Bonner - son of team boss Declan - are at NUIG. It is not clear whether established senior players like Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson or Mark McHugh will be available.

But Byrne is confident the young guns will acquit themselves well in the Dr McKenna Cup: “There are some pluses in that it allows Declan Bonner to get a look at all of his available talent, which might not have been the case in previous years," he added.

“And we have up to 16 very talented U21s very keen to get on the Donegal senior team. They are well used to winning after reaching the All-Ireland minor football final in 2014 and the semi-final last year. But significantly, this group of players don’t really know the meaning of defeat as they have won nine out of 11 titles when they were on development squads.”

Donegal were understood to be having a senior challenge match against Armagh this weekend and that could be the start of a number of games over the next four weeks: “The U21s are also competing in the North West Cup which begins next Tuesday so there will be no shortage of games for them but they are young and very keen,” added Byrne.

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