Donegal facing 'challenging' times as experienced trio step away from inter-county football
Donegal boss Rory Gallagher has admitted there are "challenging" times ahead for the county after the retirements of Rory Kavanagh, Christy Toye and David Walsh made it eight departures since last year.
Colm McFadden and Eamon McGee had already confirmed their farewell from the inter-county scene towards the end of 2016, while Odhran MacNiallais, Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone have declared their unavailability for 2017.
Gallagher is in his third year as Donegal's manager and was given a four-year term at the end of last year - something the Fermanagh native was anxious to secure with the team facing into a period of rebuilding.
"We're looking forward to new challenges. We talked about extending our term and that was with the new players in mind," he said. "It is a big sea-change of players coming in and out. We knew in 2014 that there was 18 or 24 months in a lot of them. We felt there was going to be a break up and it's a challenge now to build a new team."
The Donegal boss was quick to pay tribute yesterday to the contribution of Kavanagh and Toye who amassed 309 competitive games between them since 2001. Toye is Donegal's second top appearance holder having played 163 games for his county.
Gallagher said: "It's been outrageous. We have been very fortunate with all of these players.
"Christy and Rory are two of a kind - we've become so accustomed to seeing them in training and in games. They owe no-one anything."
"We were aware of all of these situations coming up the road after the Dublin game last year."
However, the Donegal boss is expecting Neil Gallagher to return to the panel for the Championship.
Meanwhile, Stuart Lowdnes - who played for Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup in 2015 and an older brother of current Dublin footballer Eric - will line out for Meath in tonight's O'Byrne Cup clash with DIT.