GAA Football

Donegal's Caolan McGonagle hoping for plenty to be cheerful about in 2020

Caolan McGonagle was an ever-present for Donegal throughout their League campaign this year, but an injury suffered on the eve of Championship curtailed his summer involvement. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

CAOLAN McGonagle won’t be too sorry to see the back of 2019 after a year that promised so much finished with frustration for both him and Donegal.

The Buncrana man was a regular throughout the National League, scoring a vital goal to see Declan Bonner’s men across the line against Meath early in the campaign and starting every game as the Tir Chonaill secured promotion back to the top flight.

McGonagle also lined out at Croke Park as a Michael Murphy-inspired Donegal rumbled the Royals to put the icing on the cake in the Division Two final, and looked primed to make his mark in the months ahead.

Unfortunately, though, that was the last action he saw in county colours all year.

A knee injury struck weeks before the Ulster Championship opener against Fermanagh, and by the time McGonagle returned to fitness Donegal were preparing for an Ulster final clash with Cavan.

“I got a good run in the League and then two weeks before the Championship I had to get an operation on my knee, and after that I was struggling to get back fit in time,” said the 23-year-old.

“It probably couldn’t have happened at a worse time, so it meant the Championship sort of passed me by a bit. I don’t think anybody’s okay sitting watching when they’ve put in all that training; everybody wants to be out on the pitch.

“But my body wasn’t right and the margins are that fine, you have to be 100 per cent going in there or you’re going to let the team down.

“This year now I hopefully get a clean run at it.”

And while it may have been tough watching from the sidelines as Bonner’s side cantered to a second Ulster title on-the-trot, it was even worse looking on as Donegal suffered the same Super 8 fate for the second consecutive summer.

In 2018 Tyrone came from four back to shut the door on Donegal’s semi-final dreams, and they headed to Castlebar in August for a winner-takes-all Super 8 showdown with old foes Mayo determined that wouldn’t happen again.

Just as had been the case 12 months earlier, however, injuries to key men such as Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher and Patrick McBrearty came back to haunt them when it mattered most, with James Horan’s side coming up trumps on a hot and heavy night at MacHale Park.

“It can happen to any team, if you’re playing all through the Championship and then you lose players, it is going to be a big blow to your team,” said McGonagle.

“We went to Castlebar that day and we probably were shy a few men, and we didn’t come out of there on the right end.

“Mayo are one of the top teams, you have to really raise your game when you’re playing them. The two of us are in the chasing bunch after Dublin, everybody’s trying to get that extra something and games like Mayo are so tight, that’s where those small margins can be found.”

That rivalry will be renewed in the first round of National League fixtures when James Horan takes his men to Ballybofey, though all eyes will also be Croke Park where new boss Dessie Farrell leads Dublin into battle for the first time against Kerry.

It remains to be seen how the Dubs react to life after five in-a-row winning manager Jim Gavin, but McGonagle insists they remain the benchmark for the rest of the chasing pack.

He said: “There’s a strong group of players there, there’s a strong underage set-up, there’s plenty of players coming through. With the pick they have, there’s plenty of players driving them on.

“I’m sure they’ll keep the same level of professionalism and they’ll still be hard to catch.”

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