Managers on both sides hoping for first competitive win as Donegal host Monaghan

Fleet-footed Conor O'Donnell on the attack for Donegal at Pairc Esler last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.
Fleet-footed Conor O'Donnell on the attack for Donegal at Pairc Esler last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.

Dr McKenna Cup Section B, round three: Donegal v Monaghan (tonight, Ballybofey, 7.30pm)

By Andy Watters

DOWN’S impressive speed out of the 2023 traps means these counties are playing for the second place in their section but the winners could yet make it into the semi-finals as best runners-up.

Vinny Corey’s Monaghan, McKenna Cup champions last year, lost 2-14 to 0-12 against the Mournemen in the opener at Castleblayney last week while Donegal, also with a new manager in Paddy Carr, were beaten 2-14 to 1-10 in Newry last Sunday.

Like Corey, Carr threw a number of debutants (nine in all) into the Pairc Esler fray and although his side were beaten the new Tir Chonaill boss will have taken positives from the entertaining encounter.

Donegal did start sluggishly but they hauled themselves back into the game through Daire O Baoill’s goal. Paddy McBrearty’s wasn’t at his accurate best and a couple of other goal chances went abegging but there was evidence of spirit in the team that Carr and his assistants Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley will intend to nurture as this new era unfolds.

McBrearty, full-back Brendan McCole, Caolan Ward at number six, Ciaran Thompson at midfield and Jamie Brennan were the experienced performers in Carr’s first starting team. The Donegal manager is without injured quartet Michael Langan, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Paul Brennan and Oisin Gallen and although he hinted at a more experienced line-up for tonight, he is keen to freshen a squad that was built around the game-changing talents of Michael Murphy for over a decade.

“There are more players to come in and you have to be fair to lads and give them time out there on the field,” said Carr.

“Their aspirations to play for Donegal are big and we’re after bringing a good number of them in but it’s difficult for them because some of these lads had Sigerson Cup and some of them played (U20) club games at the weekend.

“That takes its toll and at this level you get punished if you’re not on the money but their attitude is right. When you put that number of young lads out you’re not going to win All-Irelands or whatever but you have to bring them through. It does take a bit of time and the fact that we weren’t allowed to play any challenge matches in the month of December has been a bit of a hindrance.

“Down have five or six games played at this stage and you could see that in their play and the lack of it in ours. But this is a work in progress and we’ll keep it going.”

Carr said it was “hard to give an exact figure” on how many of Donegal’s emerging youngsters will be in the reckoning for the Division One opener against All-Ireland champions Kerry.

“We’ll see what happens against Monaghan,” he said.

“We’ll make the decision about those lads when it’s appropriate and when it’s fair.”

After what he saw in Newry, Carr will expect better from his players on home soil. His players were disappointed to lose to Down and he’ll be looking for a reaction tonight.

“We need a big performance and that’s the way we’ll be looking at,” he said.

“You can expect more resilience. No-one likes coming off the field after a defeat but there was learning in the Down game for us and I expect a good, competitive game with Monaghan.”

Monaghan manager Corey will feel the same way. Apart from Ryan Wylie in defence and Micheal Bannigan (who top-scored) and Conor McCarthy in attack, Corey sent out a fledgling side against Down.

Fintan Kelly and Shane Carey, who both came off the bench, could be among the more experienced players to feature tonight.