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Kavanagh's shirt is up for grabs, says Rory Gallagher

By Declan Bogue

For Donegal supporters, tomorrow's derby clash against Fermanagh will feel almost like an away game.

The initial fixture was supposed to be played at Ballybofey, but has been switched to Father Tierney Park in Ballyshannon - less than five miles to the Fermanagh border, skirting along the Assaroe Lake and the homeplace of new manager Rory Gallagher.

The 36-year-old admits to a wry smile when the venue was changed.

"I actually recall playing there. It was a different era, but I think we played against Donegal on a St Patrick's Day, because I remember it was Raymond's (his cousin, and fellow county forward Raymond Gallagher) 21st birthday in a McKenna Cup game in Ballyshannon around 1996.

"We actually beat them and they still had the likes of Matt Gallagher, Noel Hegarty and Declan Bonner still playing for them. That was a good day for us at the time," he recalled.

"It is good and with it being on the border as well, there will be a good Fermanagh crowd there. I think with them having started the season well it will be an ideal test for us."

Should Fermanagh win, they would go into the semi-finals with a 100 per cent record. Nothing short of a 10-point win would guarantee Donegal a place at the top of their group and entry to the semi-finals.

Gallagher, however, feels that results are not as important as trying to get the wheels moving for the season.

"We got to look at a lot of guys last time," he explained. "The first day out was always going to be very difficult. We are only back training effectively five days.

"We will see how Sunday goes but the reality for us in the McKenna Cup is about trying to manage the squad. The Queen's game was a step forward and we would be hoping now to get another good performance."

He also revealed that he was aware of Rory Kavanagh's decision to retire as far back as October last year, but wanted to give him as much breathing space as possible.

"It's something I was very much aware of," Gallagher said.

"I spoke to Rory in October time before I was even appointed manager and he had informed me then that he was very happy in his own mind that he had finished.

"We gave him a bit more time then to reflect but he felt that it was the best thing for him.

"The thing you would have to understand is that quite selfishly, we would love to have him, but we understand that he has to do what is right for himself."

When Jim McGuinness took over, Kavanagh was a 12-stone wing-forward, but developed physically to become one of the most athletic and mobile midfielders in the game.

Gallagher believes there are enough candidates to make that position their own, commenting: "That's the thing Rory said. He said, 'listen, I feel that there are plenty of boys capable of taking over from me'. Obviously Martin (McElhinney) is one of them, Odhran MacNiallais is another. We have Christy Toye back fit now.

"While we would love to have him, we will have to park that and move on. It's up to other people to step up to the plate. Thankfully, we have had time to absorb it and move on and make plans."

Belfast Telegraph

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