Gallagher calling on younger players to step up to the mark for Donegal
Lidl National Football League Division One: Galway v Donegal (Today, Tuam Stadium, 2pm)
THE new inter-county season gets underway this afternoon when the ball is thrown up between Galway and Donegal who will battle it out for the first league points on offer in Tuam Stadium.
After the hard slog of pre-season the lead-up to this point is one that is eagerly awaited as teams jostle for some early pace-setting.
Donegal reached their first ever Division One final last year losing out to Meath in the final back in April and while it is every county’s ambition to reach a league final every year it is much too early yet to be taking about back-to-back final appearances.
The league has reverted to its previous format pre-Covid of eight teams, seven games taking the early pressure off teams and leaving them some room for a potential slip-up.
Tir Chonaill manager Maxi Curran has indicated in recent weeks there will be a new look about his side for the earlier rounds of the campaign at least with notable absentees in 2022 Senior Players’ Player of the Year and All Star midfielder current captain Niamh McLaughlin, sharpshooter Geraldine McLaughlin and fellow star forwards Karen Guthrie, Yvonne Bonner and Niamh Hegarty.
That leaves room for younger players, forwards especially, to step up and show their worth and interim captain Emer Gallagher, who missed the majority of last season with a cruciate injury and captains the team in Niamh McLaughlin’s absence, is excited at the prospect of playing alongside them.
“It will definitely be a very different Donegal team that you will see on Saturday and probably for the majority of the league itself. Some of our girls have been playing for 13, 14 up to 16, 17 or 18 seasons and it’s hard to keep coming back each year and stay injury free,” said Gallagher.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for minor football girls to give them senior experience. We are focusing on all those positives. They are bringing huge amounts of enthusiasm and excitement to the team and training, seeing things through fresh eyes and it’s lovely to get to know these young girls who have come through the underage groups.
“We have been holding on to the same players for a long period of time. It’s important as older players to see the talent coming through and stepping onto the pitch beside you and holding their own and it gives hope for the future at whatever stage the older ones decide to step away.”
Curran has named a strong and familiar defensive unit and it will be up to the likes of Gallagher, Niamh Carr, Evelyn McGinley, Amy Boyle Carr, Nicole McLaughlin and Tara Hegarty in defence and Shelly Twohig and Roisin Rodgers in midfield to show their leadership skills starting against Galway this afternoon and help the younger players make the transition and gain invaluable experience throughout the league.
“Our aim for the league campaign is to give this fantastic new bunch of players game time in senior inter-county football. This is a huge step for them in terms of physicality and experience. If nothing else comes out of the league that will be a huge achievement in itself that these girls will have got that experience at inter-county level.
“You will always have high ambitions going into the league. We have had a few great months of training under our belts and looking at how fare we went in the league last year, just falling short in the final, you definitely go in with big ambitions to get back there but are starting the campaign focussing on ourselves and our first game against Galway. That will be no easy task and we know how tough the challenge is ahead of us."
Division 2: Tyrone v Roscommon
TYRONE will hope to make home advantage count when they welcome newly promoted Roscommon to O’Neill’s Healy Park. The Red Hands needed a relegation play-off against Clare save their second tier league status last year and they will hope not to find themselves embroiled in a battle at the bottom of the table.
Roscommon are an upcoming team having climbed out of Division Three last year and reached the last four of the intermediate championship.
Division 2: Laois v Monaghan
MONAGHAN open their 2023 Division Two campaign against All-Ireland intermediate champions Laois.
These two counties have a lot of history and have produce real classic encounters down through the years and there is always a lot of pride at stake when they come together.
The Farney have been going through significant change in the last couple of years and that has brought about the loss of both their division one league and their senior championship statuses.
Both sides will be keen to get off to a winning start and get three points on the board.
Division 2: Cavan v Armagh
IT’S an all-Ulster clash, the first of six in this league, with Cavan facing last year’s league finalists Armagh.
The Orchard County will be among the favourites for the Division Two title but there is plenty of football to be played before the final stage is reached and these first few rounds will be crucial as teams hope to lay down early intentions.
Gerry Moane remains with Cavan while it’s a first competitive game for Shane McCormack as the Orchard manager.
Division Three: Kildare v Down
DOWN begin their Division Three campaign away to Kildare with manager Peter Lynch hoping to get a bit of an understanding as to where his side could be in the pack.
Kildare reached the league semi-finals last year – so too did Down. The last time these sides met in the league was 2019 with Kildare edging it by a single point.
Division Four Group B: Leitrim v Derry
DERRY begin life under James McGurk with a trip to Leitrim who had five points to spare over the Oak Leaf side when they met in the league last year.
It was a tough 2022 for Derry who failed to record a single victory and it will be interesting to see if they can at least begin to turn things around especially with the success the county has enjoyed at underage level. Leitrim are now under the tutelage of Jonny Garrity, former Fermanagh manager.
Division 1: Galway v Donegal (Tuam Stadium, 2pm), Dublin v Meath (DCU St Claire’s, 5.15pm live on TG4)
Division 1: Mayo v Cork (Connacht Centre of Excellence, 1.30pm), Waterford v Kerry (Piltown, 2pm)
Division 2: Cavan v Armagh (Drumlane, 2pm), Laois v Monaghan (MW Hire O’Moore Park, 2pm), Tipperary v Westmeath (Fethard, 2pm), Tyrone v Roscommon (O’Neill’s Healy Park, Omagh, 2pm)
Division 3: Kildare v Down (St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, 2pm), Louth v Longford (Darver, 2pm), Sligo v Clare (Curry, 2pm), Wexford v Offaly (Enniscorthy, 2pm)
Division 4B: Leitrim v Derry (Aughawillan, 2pm), Kilkenny v Limerick (MW Hire Kilkenny GAA Training Centre, 2pm)