Jim McGuinness predicts dog-eat-dog Division Two as Armagh and Donegal lead push for promotion

Caolan Ward facing up to three months on the sidelines after hamstring operation

Oisin Gallen checks the whareabouts of Niall Carolan as he looks for space. Photo: Adrian Donohoe.
Oisin Gallen scored six points for Donegal at Kingspan Breffni. Picture Adrian Donohoe.

DIVISION Two may be going along the predicted lines with Donegal and Armagh leading the way on four points, but Jim McGuinness doubts if that will last.

The dog-eat-dog second tier rarely, if ever, goes by the script and McGuinness’s side had to hang on gamely to get out of Kingspan Breffni with a one-point win on Sunday. Armagh had few problems beating Meath on Saturday evening but they were pushed right to the wire in their opener against Louth.

McGuinness says he won’t be looking beyond his side’s next opponents Fermanagh (also unbeaten) as the bigger picture begins to take shape.

“Obviously Armagh have had a really good start as well but I think a lot of the teams in this division will beat each other,” he said.

“There’s definitely room for that to happen and it’ll probably be a division that will only start to take shape at round five or six.

“Cork have lost two games but they are a strong side and they’ll take points off lots of teams. Cavan will take points off teams when they come here so, from our point of view, I’m happy with the start and that we’ve got points on the board.”

Donegal battled from first whistle to last to match Cavan’s workrate on Sunday and their inside-forward line of Paddy McBrearty (0-4), Oisin Gallen (0-6) and Jamie Brennan (0-1) came up with the scores they needed.

Gallen made his Donegal debut in 2019 but had to wait until last year for a first Championship start.  With his injury issues behind him, he was outstanding at Kingspan Breffni.

“It was a huge positive and he’ll only get better,” said McGuinness.

“He hasn’t had football so he’s starting to build up his fitness levels and game fitness which is a completely different ball game to training fitness. I’m delighted to have him back.”

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness says he won't look past next opponents Fermanagh as Division Two comes gradually to the boil (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

On the flip side, Eoghan Ban Gallagher limped off before half-time on Sunday and joins Caolan Ward on the injured list. Ward pulled a hamstring while kicking the ball in training and had surgery on the tendon last week. He could be out for up to three months.

“Players are so highly-tuned now,” said McGuinness.

“They’re in the gym two or three nights’ a week and training two or three nights’ a week and they are at that elite level which is running through the GAA at the minute, so these types of injuries happen.”

Sunday’s game was played in blustery conditions and Donegal pressed the Cavan kickout relentlessly throughout the first half. It is a tactic many teams are using but McGuinness says every game has to be won “on its own merits”.

“Every game will take on a different narrative and the tactics of the opposition manager will always have a big part to play in that,” he said.

“Fundamentally, that’s what we’ve always tried to do – we’ve always tried to ask questions of teams and get to them and work hard to create turnovers and play a transitional game. We’ll have an individual plan for every game and at this time of year there are ups and downs.

“We did really well in key areas (against Cavan) and there were areas that weren’t so good. Cork (first game of the League) did serious damage on their own kickout and the same thing happened in this game.

“That’s definitely an area we want to look at but the bigger picture would be the character of the lads in the last 15-20 minutes. They kept their composure, they moved the ball well, they looked for those moments to be on the front foot and see the game out. So that’s the big positive and we’ll try and freshen them now and go again.”