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Kavanagh is up for big challenge

By John Campbell

Rory Kavanagh is preparing to shoulder extra responsibility when he lines out with Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster final against Down.

The St Eunan’s clubman was not due to start in the semi-final against Tyrone because of injury but was drafted into the side at the 11th hour by manager Jim McGuinness with Leo McLoone making way.

McGuinness, with his sights set on Donegal retaining the provincial crown for the first time in their history, will look to Kavanagh’s experience, mobility and craft to further underpin the midfield area against James McCartan’s team now that old warhorse Neil Gallagher is set to miss the game.

An ankle injury sustained in a club game will keep 31-year-old Gallagher sidelined thus paving the way for a midfield shake-up.

And Kavanagh, who recently chalked up his 100th championship match in the county colours, is ready for the challenge.

“Neil’s injury could not have come at a worse time but we have to get on with things,” said Kavanagh.

“Down are strong in midfield where they have Ambrose Rogers and Kalum King and obviously if you are going to win games this is one area in which a team has to impose themselves.”

Kavanagh and Ryan Bradley look certain to form the Donegal engine-room with Martin McElhinney likely to be deployed at wing-forward but with the brief to act as a third midfielder in order to cope with the ability of Down’s Danny Hughes to win break ball in this sector.

Bradley has been the essence of consistency for Donegal in the championship to date having started in the side as a wing-forward but his fielding skills, penchant for breaking tackles and appetite for putting in big hits have served to make an integral cog in McGuinness’s well-oiled machine.

But it’s to the seasoned Kavanagh that Donegal will look for first-phase possession and his now traditional cultured distribution.

“Against Tyrone, we knew we had to stop their key men from running at us at pace and it will be much the same against Down,” said schoolteacher Kavanagh.

“They have very fast players who are good on the ball. We got a bit of a foothold against Mickey Harte’s boys in the second-half and were able to hold out and it won’t be any easier against Down on Sunday.”

He scored two fine long-range points against Tyrone — he held down a wing-forward berth in the side for many years, after all — and feels even sharper following what he describes as “some hard work on the training ground” since the semi-final.

“Our aim now is to push on and up our performance from that semi-final,” added Kavanagh.

“We will need to do this if we are to beat Down who showed in beating Monaghan that they are team with plenty of spirit and character.

“They won’t be fazed by being in the final, that’s for sure.”

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