Nothing needed in Donegal but time - Devenney excited by emergence of new talent
The figures don't make for encouraging reading for Donegal supporters. Neil Gallagher's retirement this week brought to five the number of players with well in excess of 100 appearances for the county to depart the stage since last year. They are not the only ones to move on.
Neil Gallagher's retirement this week brought to five the number of players with well in excess of 100 appearances for the county to depart the stage since last year. They are not the only ones to move on.
In total, nine players from last year's squad aren't available to manager Rory Gallagher for one reason or another. And more than half of the side (eight) that started the 2012 All-Ireland final win are no longer around.
Gallagher's retirement didn't catch anyone by surprise, but it does shine a light on the task of the rebuild the county faces. Between Gallagher, Christy Toye, Colm McFadden, Eamon McGee and Rory Kavanagh, Donegal are without a combined experience acquired across 759 games.
They are also without another veteran in David Walsh.
It leaves a big hole to fill and they'll have to do it on the hoof, as Dublin bring their incredible 31-game unbeaten streak to town this weekend.
Change can come hard, but former Donegal star Brendan Devenney says that with the core of the side having given so much distinguished service, it was coming.
"Against Tyrone last year in the Ulster final, I felt we were a little patched-up looking, so it's not a surprise really," he says of the raft of retirements.
"I know big Neil was struggling towards the end of last year with the run his club were on and I think he was just going game to game. And with county football now and the training, I don't think you can even carry a niggle, you have to be 100pc right."
Still, Devenney refuses to be too downcast. He points out that they have mined some talent in the hills these past few years. The county has won two of the last three Ulster minor titles and reached its first All-Ireland minor final in 2014.
That team, managed by Declan Bonner, went unbeaten in championship football for three years right up to that final.
And while many of the heroes of 2012 have moved on, Devenney reckons Donegal are still feeling the effects of that win.
"There is some great talent coming through, I really believe that. During the McGuinness years, every young fella in the county was all about playing for Donegal.
"That might not have always been the way in the past, but after that there was nothing else on their minds but Donegal. We're still feeling the bounce from that now.
"I think the bigger counties get this all the time. They win so much that it becomes more attractive for young fellas to play and it makes a breeding ground out of it. I think we're seeing a bit of that now up here on the back of 2012."
Still, he warns that Donegal's new faces will need time to learn to fly at the highest level and that their remarkable consistency in Ulster, which has seen them reach the last six finals, might take a hit.
For Devenney, rebuilding the spine of the team is key and giving players the space to mature physically is first on the list.
"You saw the size of David Moran there in the game against Kerry, he has years of training behind him. Our lads in around that middle third are really good footballers, but they'll need a bit of time to get up to that level.
"Down the middle you need experience and we have Neil McGee at full-back who has been there for a while - but God forbid anything ever happened to him. Other lads will need some more experience of playing together to mould into a team. There will be a period of transition, I suppose, but I think they will come good."
Donegal people will be patient as the county rebuilds, Devenney reckons, but he believes staying in Division 1 is key to their development.
"You're probably looking at the table at the start of the year and you're thinking that a lot will depend on how they get on against the likes of Cavan and Roscommon.
"The thing about Division 1 is playing against the best teams and the best players and the buzz that brings. No one up here is expecting Donegal to beat Dublin this weekend, but it'll get the crowds out and it will be invaluable experience for these lads because they are coming up against the best. They'll know what it's all about after that.
"In the Kerry game, they kind of stopped playing and let us back into it at the end. Dublin don't do that because the lads coming off the bench are so good and so keen to make an impression.
"They'll keep piling on the scores, which is a worry because we're a bit open at the back at the minute.
"But look, we still have the forwards to cause anyone problems, so hopefully they can stay with them."