Gallagher: Veteran's return no indictment of young talent
Rory Gallagher has rejected suggestions Rory Kavanagh's return to the Donegal squad reflects a dearth of emerging talent in the county.
The 33-year-old St Eunan's midfielder has come back into the fold one year after announcing his retirement from inter-county football.
Gallagher is confident the future is bright for Donegal, but insists the young players must be given time to develop before being pitched in at senior level.
"If you look at the sides who reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals and beyond last year, not too many of them had U-21 players in the starting team," he says.
"Our lads are very young and it's not easy for any U-21s to break into the senior team."
Donegal contested the All-Ireland MFC final in 2014, reached three Ulster U-21 finals in a row and now feature regularly at the business end of underage competitions.
Many of the players who were given a chance to impress during the McKenna Cup failed to take that opportunity, but Gallagher is preaching the need for patience.
"Most of those young lads are 19, some have two more years at U-21 level and some have three," he said.
"We have Eoin McHugh, who was with us last year, and Caolan Ward who is 23 and you can see they are that bit physically more developed this year.
"The first (McKenna Cup) game went really well and since then performances have dipped, but we would be pleased overall. We had a lot of lads doing exams and driving from places like Carlow and Dublin, so it is not easy to perform at your best under those circumstances."
Developing underage talent might be part of a manager's brief, but Gallagher must also focus on the here and now and believes Kavanagh can play a key role in team affairs once more.
"It was not that he was ever really gone, he just had a wee break and took time out last year, which was something he wanted to do," he said.
"Rory is naturally fit and his athleticism is second to none. We missed him last year. We had a conversation before Christmas and he has been in the gym and out running for the last six or seven weeks.
"With his experience and decision-making he'll be a big addition to us."
It's believed the door is still open to Mark McHugh for a possible return later in the year, after the 2012 All-Star was dropped from the squad last week to embark on a personal training programme.
While McHugh's future remains unclear, Christy Toye, Eamon McGee, Neil Gallagher and Kavanagh are among those expected to come straight back into the team for the Division 1 fixtures against Down and Cork.
"We're training quite hard at the moment," added Gallagher."We have done quite a few sessions since we came back together on December 30 and we hope to be ready for the opening two League games, with the aim of winning at least one of them."