By Ryan Ferry
FORMER Donegal selector Gary McDaid feels that Donegal’s Division One fate may come down to the final match against Roscommon but he’s backing Paddy Carr’s side to retain their top flight status.
It will be a new-look Donegal side in this year’s league campaign but staying in Division One will remain a priority, especially with the new format in play and sides in the top division are highly unlikely to end up in the Tailteann Cup.
Carr’s charges have made somewhat of a slow start to the year by losing both their McKenna Cup games, although the new bainisteoir handed out 14 debuts in total.
Getting experienced players back onto the pitch will be key and they could have done without the weather disrupting matters this week.
However, Glenswilly clubman McDaid is hearing good vibes from the camp and he hopes that can be translated into league points.
“I think over the last few years it has always been about survival for Donegal in the league and I think it will be the same this year.
“We have been close to the trap door and have saved ourselves in the last game or the match before that.
“We have been able to pull off those big results but I suppose people would say if you’re beside the trap door often enough, some day you’ll go through it.
“So I think most people would be expecting to be down there again, but we have a new manager in and he has a fresh impetus and there’s always a new spark of life with a different management team.
“The word coming out from training is that everyone is enjoying the training and that it’s a happy camp.
“I wouldn’t be too worried about the McKenna Cup. A huge percentage of the players used won’t be involved come the championship.
“Some of them aren’t ready yet and will be thinking that they can put in a big effort for 12,18, 24 months and then their time might come.
“They (management team) looked at a lot of players but they had no choice really.
“They don’t have a Donegal man in the backroom team so they had to see these players in action.
“That probably was a bit of a disadvantage but it made sure it was a clean slate for everyone.
“It’s going to be a tough league. Looking at it, you would probably expect it to go down the last game against Roscommon.
“That won’t be an easy game but I don’t think Donegal would be fearing them either. If they win that, I think they will stay up.”
McDaid’s Glenswilly clubmate Michael Murphy has retired as has Neil McGee and they will be big losses.
Patrick McBrearty has been appointed as the new captain, and he will be an influential figure going forward.
However, McDaid, who coaches at St Eunan’s College, feels that there are younger players who have now built up a good level of experience, and can take on more responsibility this season.
“I think the Donegal management and the Donegal public will be looking to the older players to lead the county forward now.
“People would have said it was always up to Michael Murphy to lead the way but Michael’s gone now so that excuse isn’t there.
“I think the older lads will take the lead here and will help to guide the less experienced players and show them the process and standards that need to be hit.
“We have been one of the top teams over the last decade, regularly playing in Division One and in Ulster finals and that doesn’t just disappear because some players aren’t involved.
“That older group are all good players and they’ll be looking to drive it on now and put their own stamp on things.”
Donegal’s league campaign starts with a bang on Sunday when they welcome the All-Ireland champions Kerry to MacCumhaill Park.
“If you’re going to play Kerry then first up is as good as any time, especially after such a bloody long journey for them.
“They took the league very seriously last year and hammered Mayo in the final.
“If it was a game of tiddlywinks, Jack O’Connor would want to win it and he will want to win these league games.
“There’s a lot of talk that the Cliffords (David and Paudie) won’t be playing but I wouldn’t rule it out.
“Last year Jack played two men (Jack Savage and Tony Brosnan) in a nothing McGrath Cup game after they played the Sigerson earlier that day.
“If Jack wants them there, they will be there.”