High flying Donegal put their unbeaten Allianz League record on the line this Sunday when they face Kerry in Austin Stack Park, Tralee. (2.30 pm).
With three wins from their three opening games - Down, Cork and Mayo - Rory Gallagher takes his new look and reinvigorated Donegal to the deep south intent on maintaining their winning run.
“We want to win every game we play and Sunday’s game against Kerry is no different; we are going all out to win it too,” said the Donegal boss.
“We are in a great position in the league after the first three games and are probably safe as things stands, but to make doubly sure a win on Sunday and we will definitely be sure our position for next year.
“That was our number one objective at the start of the year and it will mean that we will have Kerry and Dublin coming to Donegal next year. The are big games and great games to have in the county.”
Kerry, after defeats to Dublin away and at home to Roscommon, picked up their first points of the campaign with a 0-22 to 0-6 win over struggling Down in Newry.
This game marked the return to action for the first time since last summer of Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper.
Cooper, who was used as a second half replacement, kicked two points, while team captain Bryan Sheehan 0-6, Darran O’Sullivan, 0-4, Alan Fitzgerald 0-2 and Stephen O’Brien were also on target in the win over the Mourne County.
The game also marked the first start of the campaign for last year’s captain Kieran Donaghy. Donaghy lined out at midfield alongside Sheehan, instead of the injured David Moran.
“Kerry won their first game against Down and it was noticeable that they had a number of their big names back and they were much stronger than they had been in their first two games.
“It is a big game for us and it is a big game for them. We want to keep the momentum going and it is a crunch game for them with games against Mayo and Monaghan away and Cork at home their run in.
“They have no easy games left so they will be going all out for the points.They beat us down there last year in a close game and they will be anxious to repeat that again this time around because they are badly in need of the points.”
Kerry won last year’s encounter in Austin Stack Park by two points, 2-13 to 2-11 with Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy (from the penalty spot) scoring the Donegal goals in a game despite the defeat was seen by many as kickstarting Donegal’s season.
David Moran, also from the penalty spot, and Barry John Keane scored the Kerry goals as the locals held on for the narrow win.
“Even though we lost that game we got a lot out of it and we built up momentum afterwards. We are heading to Kerry this weekend in much better shape and playing better than we were this time last year.”
Both sides have changed in terms of personnel since that game with both Rory Gallagher and his opposite number, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, adding fresh blood to their squads.
Ciaran Thompson and Eoin McHugh have come into the Donegal team and have made their mark while Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh and Colm McFadden have yet to feature so far for in the campaign for Donegal.
Paul Durcan, currently not in the squad, was the goalkeeper 12 months ago.
Martin O’Reilly (shoulder), Anthony Thompson (an ongoing back problem) are Rory Gallagher’s injury concern.
But the manager expects that both O’Reilly and Thompson will have recovered in time for Sunday’s clash in Tralee.
“Martin got a blow to the top of the shoulder but it is not too serious and I expect he will be okay for Sunday.
“Anthony has a back problem for some time and that is why we did not start him on Sunday. He is complaining of stiffness but I expect he will be fine.”
Gallagher also reported that Ciaran Thompson is fully fit again and may be the only change from the team that started against Mayo, as Donegal bid for a first National League win in Kerry in 28 years. The last was in 1988.
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