Donegal will break from the traps for the first time in 2011 when they go toe to toe with the University of Ulster, Jordonstown, this Saturday night in Ballybofey, in the Dr. McKenna Cup. (Throw in 7pm)
After breathing a sigh of relief last Saturday afternoon when the Ulster Council called off all six first round games in the competition due to frost and snow, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and his players are chomping at the bit to get into action.
Down to just 17 fit players - due to the 'flu bug and injury - ahead of last Sunday's tie with Tyrone, McGuinness was forced to look at his U-21 squad as he drafted in Conor Classon (Ardara), Luke Keaney (Four Masters), Ryan McErlean (Naomh Colmcille), Kealan McFadden (Glenswilly) and Odhran MacNiallais (Gaoth Dobhair).
The alterations to the squad meant that McGuinness also had to forward a new 26 man panel to the Ulster Council and is now confined - under Ulster Council rules - to the second panel for the competition.
"We are still far from full strength but things have improved from last weekend and we have more players available to us," said Jim McGuinness.
"Neil Gallagher, Kevin Mulhern and Kevin Cassidy all trained last night (Tuesday) and while they are not a 100% they are in much better shape than they were and hopefully with a few more days to recover they will be fit for Saturday night. Daniel McLaughlin had to pull out of training and is still struggling with the effects of 'flu. Daniel and Odhran MacNiallais have an U-21 game on Sunday and they are going to conentrate on that game this weekend.
"As things stand we have 19 fit players and if Colm McFadden, who is due back from his honeymoon on Saturday, makes it back to Ballybofey in time that will bring the number of subs to five. It is still far from perfect but at least things are improving and are going in the right direction.
"At least with 19/20 players we have a number of options on the bench and the most you can use in any game is five subs. Last weekend we had just one outfield substitute."
Marty Boyle and Michael Hegarty (hamstring) and Johnny Bonner (quad injury) are also ruled out for Saturday night's game.
"While we would like to have a stronger squad, at the same time we are looking forward to getting into action and getting our season up and running. We have a hectic schedule of games coming up over the next few weeks and it is going to be demanding on players. But we have a plan as we gear up for the National League and we are going to stick with it as best we can because with seven games in nine weeks we have to be ready for the challenge of the League."
With the uncertaintity over his panel and going on the events of last week when player availability changed on a day by day basis McGuinness does not expect to be in a position to name his starting 15 until just before the game.
"We have made no decision on a team yet and given the experience of last week it is probably a pointless exercise and we will leave it until later in the week. We will have a better idea after training on Thursday night, but even at that it may be Saturday before we finalise the team."
Meanwhile, U.U.J. have problems of their own and manager Adrian McGuckin - a former Donegal mentor during Brian McIver's time - will be without key forwards Jamie Clarke, Conor Mortimer, Ciaran Donnelly and Conor McManus.
Armagh and Crossmaglen star Clarke is club tied and is in action for Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland Club quarter-final while Mortimer (Mayo), Donnelly (Tyrone) and McManus (Monaghan) are all ruled out through injury.
Joe Diver, Caolan O'Boyle and Barry O'Reilly are the only recognised county seniors in McGuckin's 26 man squad.
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