IT’S all change for Donegal in this year’s McKenna Cup, not just on the field but on the sidelines too.
The Tir Connail opted to line out with their under 21s in the pre-season competition, with Declan Bonner overseeing managerial affairs temporarily instead of Rory Gallagher.
Not surprisingly they have found the going tough and head to Healy Park to face Tyrone tomorrow evening having suffered two defeats already.
However stand-in boss Bonner said there were plenty of positives to be taken from his side’s performances against both Ulster University and Cavan.
“It’s a big ask of us, but as I have said the results are not the be-all and end-all. We wanted to see how the lads perform and if they could raise their game to play against quality opposition. If we can do that, then it has certainly been worth our while playing in the McKenna Cup.”
An interesting sidebar to this week’s contest with the Red Hands is the fact that the bulk of the Donegal squad will likely line-out against Tyrone Under-21s in the first round of the Ulster Championship in mid-March. Bonner insisted victory in that encounter remained his number one priority.
“There’s still about eight or nine lads to come into the group. The guys that have got the jerseys are going to make it difficult for the lads that are looking to come in.
“We wanted to use this McKenna Cup campaign and be competitive and we have another huge game coming up now against Tyrone.
“But in terms of the build-up, we met up earlier on and there was a sense that this was as close to championship as we can get.
“Preparation for the 15th of March is what it is all about. From that point of view we would definitely have to say that we are very, very happy with that.”
Bonner hoped that rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s top players would hold his youthful squad in good stead in the long term.
“ There were a lot of positives from the two matches. A lot of lads have worked really, really hard and we have got some excellent scores. In terms of commitment, effort, application, and working to the game plan as best as possible, they did that and you have to give great credit to them.
“We want to use this and make sure that come the end of January, we are a better group and we have players that are going to be ready for the 15th of March.
“The lads that have went out there all contributed and have worked extremely hard. I‘m sure it will be just as tough again against Tyrone but I expect a similar attitude.”