Declan Bonner wants his experienced players to help take the Donegal young guns to the next level.
After Saturday’s 1-16 to 1-12 win over Tyrone in the McKenna Cup final at the Athletic Grounds, Bonner hailed the character of his youngsters.
Even without the red hot Patrick McBrearty, Donegal were able to end Tyrone’s bid for a seventh McKenna Cup crown in a row.
At just the right time, Bonner is beginning to welcome back the cavalry.
Michael Murphy, seven nights after a comeback against Dublin in the League, had a real influence having replaced Martin McElhinney – who was making his first appearance of 2018 – in the 42nd minute.
Neil McGee came in for a late run out and, while Paddy McGrath remains absent, the Ardara man is on course to return by the end of the League.
“We’re looking for those lads to carry the younger lads through,” Bonner said.
“The real positive for us is that those guys are getting back on the park now. The more game time they get now the stronger they’re going to get.
“They showed that leadership tonight. On the touchline it was like a game of chess to see who was coming in and who is picking up who. That’s part and parcel of it.
“All you can ask at the end of the day is lads giving you 100 per cent and that’s what we got from the 21 lads who played.”
Dáire Ó Baoill kicked two points on his first senior start while the likes of Conor Morrison, Caolan McGonagle, Stephen McMenamin and Shaun Patton were in the starting XV. Brendan McCole was used as a sub and Niall O’Donnell kicked two points after coming on.
Bonner said: “I know them young guys well as I’ve had them for four or five years and I know what they’re capable of and you have to nurture them along.
“They’ve come in and done a really good job there tonight in a good, competitive match. It was a high tempo game and the lads put in a big shift.
“There’s a lot of good young lads coming through and they’re really done well in the McKenna Cup. It’s been brilliant for them and they’ve nailed down a couple of places within the squad and they’re pushing close to the first XV.”