New Donegal boss Rory Gallagher's honeymoon period is already over
Rory Gallagher will step out of the comparative shadows of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup and into the full glare of the national spotlight when the Allianz Football League swings into action on Saturday.
The Fermanagh native, who won an All-Ireland club medal with St Gall's in 2010, has completed his brief honeymoon spell as the new boss of Donegal and now his credentials will come under close scrutiny as the Ulster champions bid to replicate the form they showed last year which took them all the way to the All-Ireland final.
Only three players - David Walsh, Neil McGee and Colm McFadden - from what has been Donegal's accepted first choice line-up are currently out of the selection frame which means that Gallagher's team will be liberally spliced with experience for the weekend confrontation with Derry at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
Karl Lacey, who has been moving towards peak fitness recently, played a full part in an in-house last Sunday at Ballyshannon and is expected to be included in the side.
When Donegal overcame Derry in the Ulster championship at Celtic Park last June, Oak Leaf boss Brian McIver was left wringing his hands in despair and Gallagher is acutely aware that his side now face a daunting league opener.
"Obviously I am very keen to see us make a good start to the league as our two opening matches are against Derry and Dublin but then there are 31 other managers of the same mind-set as I am," states Gallagher.
"Having said that we are really looking forward to the challenge. Facing Derry on Saturday means a local derby game and it will certainly be a good early test for us."
Donegal have four games in all at home against Cork, Monaghan, Tyrone and of course Derry and Gallagher is particularly anxious that they should pick up points in these ties.
Two years ago, Donegal adopted a more low-key approach to the league and paid the penalty by getting relegated on score difference before regaining their Division One status last year when they were promoted along with Monaghan.
Gallagher, credited with helping to formulate the tactical strategy that has served Donegal so well for the past four years under Jim McGuinness, is likely to by and large pursue that same blueprint.
Rory Kavanagh is the only player to have confirmed his retirement and the expectation is that young players such as Odhran MacNiallais and Daragh O'Connor among others will blossom even further this term.
Eoin McHugh, son of 1992 All-Ireland winner James McHugh and a cousin of last year's Young Player of the Year Ryan McHugh, is currently recovering from illness and is expected to link up with the squad for the second phase of the league.
Ryan himself turned out for Sligo IT against Queen's in the Sigerson Cup last night and is undeterred at the prospect of facing two important matches within a few days, citing the clash with Derry as "extremely important" to Donegal's hopes of making an impact in the league.
"We are very keen as a team to get a good league campaign under our belts and thus build for the championships," says the talented 20-year-old.
"We are very lucky to have home advantage against Derry on Sunday and we're hoping that a big crowd will get behind us." Meanwhile, Dermot Molloy has withdrawn from the Donegal senior football panel.
Molloy had become frustrated by a lack of game time and informed Gallagher of his decision in recent days.
"At the start of this year, I found the road very hard to go down and the hunger was out of me," the 23-year-old said.
"I don't think there was going to be the opportunity to get 70 minutes week-in, week-out.
"I'll go back to the club and try to find the spark again."
Molloy's last appearance, against Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup, was his 50th for Donegal.