Martin McElhinney welcomes back "leaders" to the Donegal ranks
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section C: Donegal v Queen's University, Belfast (Wednesday, MacCumhaill Park, 8pm)
LIKE his former Donegal teammate Jim McGuinness, Declan Bonner begins life in the Tir Chonaill hot-seat with a match against student opposition as they welcome Queen’s to Ballybofey this evening.
At the same venue seven years ago, McGuinness earned his first competitive win with a 0-14 to 0-10 success against UUJ and Bonner will be hoping for a similar fast start against the Malone Road men.
He’ll have to achieve that without experienced quartet Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath, who are playing catch up, but for midfielder Martin McElhinney that means one thing – opportunity.
"Of course we would rather have these players who are still so vital to Donegal, but it means that some of the newcomers will have an even better chance to stake a claim,” he said.
"Quite often in the past players featured in the McKenna Cup and were then not heard of but these absences now means they will have a bit longer to make a claim for starting spots.”
Fans at MacCumhaill Park will be keeping a close eye on new faces like Nathan Mullins, Kevin McBrearty, Gary Merritt, Alan Lyons, Peadar Mogan and Enda McCormick, while the return of Odhran MacNiallais and Leo McLoone is also a major boost to Donegal, who will be led out by Hugh McFadden.
"Both players are very gifted and are leaders and it is just great to have them back with us,” McElhinney continued.
"Competition for places will be really tight this year and that is all the better.
"It was funny, one occasion last year I looked around and I was the oldest at the training session.
"There is a lot of talent coming through in Donegal and it is a really exciting time to be involved.”
The Queen’s post has been a bit of a job-share between James McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke over the last decade, and it’s the latter who is in charge this season as they attempt to make up for a disappointing 2017.
The signs were good pre-Christmas as they just missed out on a Ryan Cup final spot following a narrow loss to University of Limerick.
Their attack is spear-headed by Ryan Burns, who was handed his inter-county debut by O’Rourke when the Dromintee man was in charge of Louth four years ago.
A number of players remain on board from last year including Antrim’s Jack Dowling, Derry’s Niall Keenan and Fermanagh’s James McMahon.
Donegal lost all three games last year as Rory Gallagher chose to field U21 sides in all three fixtures.
While Bonner won’t be as extreme as that, absences will ensure that a very young team takes to the field.
As a result, it’s difficult to see the home side cantering to the points. Like McGuinness though, Bonner should start off with a pass in his first student examination.