Football

Donegal will hope to avoid further injuries in clash with Royals

Jim McGuinness’s side have already secured promotion to Division One and a place in the Division Two final

Niall O'Donnell and Lachlan Murray
Niall O'Donnell and Lachlan Murray Niall O’Donnell came off the bench in the second half of Donegal’s win over Kildare last weekend. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET McLAUGHLIN PICTURES / C)

Allianz Football League Division Two, round seven

Donegal v Meath (Saturday, Páirc Seán Mac Cumhaill, 7pm)

AS dead-rubbers go, the meeting of Donegal and Meath this evening is right up there with the best.

But it does give Tír Chonaill boss Jim McGuinness a chance to look at some fringe players against a youthful Meath team who have secured their Division Two safety.

Donegal will face Armagh in the divisional final next weekend so the Donegal boss will be keen to rest some weary bones in a squad that has piled up the injuries.

On the plus side, Niall O’Donnell is the first of Donegal’s walking wounded to make a return – coming on as a second-half substitute in last weekend’s six-point win over Kildare that confirmed their promotion and relegated the Lilywhites.

However, there is still no sign of Brendan McCole, Caolan Ward, Jason McGee, Conor O’Donnell or Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher coming back anytime soon.

This evening could see starts for the likes of Jeaic Mac Cealbhui, Ronan Gallagher, Luke McGlynn, Kevin McGettigan and Karl Joseph Molloy, with Peadar Mogan, Langan, Patrick McBearty, Oisin Gallen and Ciaran Thompson likely to be rested.

It’s been a good League campaign for McGuinness in his first year back in charge of his native county since 2014, with his only worry the relatively large number of players who are out injured.

Meath will be keen to put it up to Donegal, but McGuinness will not want to suffer a first defeat of the League – especially at home in MacCumhaill Park – so you could except to see a few big guns thrown on if Meath prove to an awkward customer.

With Donegal and Armagh proving the class of the division, Colm O’Rourke’s side will be reasonably happy have survived at this level.

Their Championship campaign gets underway in a fortnight against Longford, with Donegal locking horns with Derry in the Ulster Championship a fortnight after that.

The fact it is only a week between this evening’s game and the Division Two final must be of concern to both Donegal and Armagh.

The last thing McGuinness will want is for a player to pick up an injury before the Armagh game – but more importantly ahead of the big battle in Celtic Park with Derry.

Donegal have been impressive in the League but the only real tests they got were from Armagh, Louth and Cavan and it is unlikely Meath will asks too many questions.

Ballybofey has been a fortress for Donegal over the years and the home side are warmly fancied to maintain their unbeaten record.

It should be business as usual for Donegal ahead of next weekend’s Croke Park clash with Armagh.