Karl Lacey will be fit for Donegal's Ulster opener against Antrim
KARL Lacey was forced to sit out last weekend’s Donegal club championship first round with a calf injury, but manager Rory Gallagher expects the Four Masters defender to return to county training later this week.
Apart from Allstar Lacey, Daniel McLaughlin was the only member of Gallagher’s squad to have any problems in the first round of domestic championship action.
St Michael’s clubman McLaughlin went off with a tight hamstring but he is expected to be fit for the Tir Chonaill outfit’s Ulster quarter-final clash with Antrim in Ballybofey on May 21.
Meanwhile, Ryan McHugh (Kilcar) and Darrach O’Connor (Buncrana) both returned for their clubs meaning that, all-in-all, last weekend was very positive for Donegal’s Championship ambitions.
“Having a round of the club championship proved very useful for us, it got a few of the boys back into competitive games,” said Gallagher.
“I firmly believe you’re as likely to be injured at training as you are in a championship match. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest and the clubs in Donegal decided that they wanted to play one round of the championship and I would have no issue with it whatsoever.”
Buncrana forward O’Connor started the 2014 All-Ireland final against Kerry, but his career was derailed after he suffered a cruciate ligament injury. However, fleet-footed ‘Jigger’ battled back to fitness and featured in four games in Donegal’s impressive Division One campaign.
Despite the retirements of a number of seasoned campaigners including Eamonn McGee, Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh and Anthony Thompson, Donegal’s young players acquitted themselves well in the top flight – beating Roscommon, Cavan and Tyrone and drawing with Dublin and Monaghan.
“We knew we had a lot of quality players and some people tended to focus on the players that had retired, but when you looked at it closely there was very few of them starting,” explained Gallagher.
“David Walsh and Neil Gallagher hadn’t played at all and there were others who weren’t regular starters. We knew what we were going into and there’s no doubt that going into Division One, no matter what panel of players you have, would be quite daunting.
“But our fellas were very competitive and I thought they played well in a number of the games although, to be honest, we were a bit disappointed we only picked up one point out of four against Monaghan and Mayo when we were in positions to win both games.
“But it’s all part of a learning curve. You start out to try and go into the Championship with a strong panel of players who have proved they can compete at the highest level and we feel we are going into the Championship with that.”
To complement the experience of All-Ireland winners like Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey and Paddy McBrearty, Gallagher has the likes of Ryan McHugh and a number of talented players from the Ulster-winning U21 team at his disposal.
“Michael and Paddy are still only 27 and the average age of our squad has come down massively because we had 16 players who were eligible for our U21 team who were playing with us this year and they had a very successful League campaign and U21 campaign,” he said.
“So we’re happy with our squad, but the ultimate test is Championship football – that’s what you’re judged on and that’s what we’re looking forward to.
“Antrim would have been disappointed in the League, they were caught in the very last minute by Longford and they ended up going down (to Division Three) but we focus on ourselves and try and get into the position to put together as good a performance as possible.
“We know Antrim have plenty of good footballers but we’ll focus on ourselves.”