League not on McGuinness hit list

Donegal 0-12 Down 0-7

The Donegal manager was never a fan of the early season competition and while others try to hit the ground running, the All-Ireland champions are still looking at the bigger picture, the defence of their Ulster and All-Ireland championships, beginning with neighbours Tyrone on May 26.

On Saturday night, Donegal won their first match since September’s All-Ireland final thanks to a nine-point turnaround that saw a one-point deficit evolve into a comfortable win in the end against last year’s beaten Ulster finalists.

“It’s completely irrelevant,” McGuinness said in regards the victory: “Even if we lost all our league games, it doesn’t matter. Even if we end up in Division Two, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we want to try things out.

“If we can get enough points to stay in the division on top of that, we’re delighted. We want to try other things out as regards the way we play and test them.”

McGuinness gave a debut to Ryan McHugh, an 18-year-old who is steeped in football tradition, the brother of Mark and son of Martin. Ross Wherity, who had moonlighted under John Joe Doherty’s management, also played a significant role in the forward line.

But whatever about the newcomers, it was an experienced player that turned their fortunes. Donegal trailed by a point at the interval, 0-5 to 0-4, with Donal O’Hare kicking four points for James McCartan’s team. But when Neil Gallagher was summoned from the bench, making his 100th appearance for the county, the tide turned.

Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh, McGuinness’s other staple midfielder, have developed a telepathic understanding down the years and on Saturday, their dual act saw Donegal click.

As well as Michael Murphy, who kicked six points in all, Donegal had points from Kavanagh, Declan Walsh, Leo McLoone and Daniel McLaughlin in a completely dominant second 35 minutes. For a team that take a little while in spring to get into full pelt, McGuinness can be content that Donegal are moving in the right direction.

Down, for their part, now have two losses from two, but it was hard not to feel a touch sympathetic for McCartan, who was forced to start without four key players – Benny Coulter, Dan Gordon, Danny Hughes and Ambrose Rogers.

“We had a really positive first half and never built on it,” the Down manager said. “We have to learn how to negate things when teams are on top of us. We have to pick ourselves up. It would’ve been nice to look towards the bench and see some experienced heads but I’m not going to say anything about the lads who wore the county jersey tonight. We have to grow up quick.”

Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-6, 4f; C McFadden 0-1, 1f; R Wherity, R Kavanagh, D Walsh, L McLoone, D McLaughlin 0-1 each

Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 0-5, 3f; K McKernan 0-2, 1f

DONEGAL: P Durcan; Declan Walsh, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, L McLoone, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney (N Gallagher 36); M McHugh, M Murphy, R Bradley; C McFadden (0-1, 1f D McLaughlin 62), R Wherity, P McBrearty (D Molloy 55).

DOWN: M Cunninghan; D Turley (D Savage 56), D McCartan, R Boyle; R Mallon, A Carr, B McArdle (P Turley 36); K King (C Gough 58), K McKernan; K Quinn, M Poland, P McComiskey; C Laverty, C Harrison (B Coulter 48), D O’Hare.

Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).

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