There was a pervading sense of a changed guard for Donegal supporters tucked into the stand at Cusack Park on Sunday.
Donegal began life in Division 2 with a 0-16 to 0-13 win on the road and, for the first time in League or Championship, fielded a starting 15 that didn’t include any of the 2012 All-Ireland winning team.
Declan Bonner still has a number of 2012 figures to bring back into the fold with Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath yet to return.
Leo McLoone and Martin McElhinney did come off the bench in Ennis, but Declan Bonner’s first XV contained none of the 2012 heroes – and, interestingly, only Ryan McHugh from the team that started the 2014 All-Ireland final loss to Kerry.
“The squad and the team is evolving and changing all the time,” Bonner said.
“The game has changed an awful lot, too. Players come and go and there’s no doubt that we have a young, inexperienced side at the minute – but we do have six or seven players to come back in.”
Neil McGee and Odhrán MacNiallais won’t be back until Gaoth Dobhair’s All-Ireland club voyage comes to an end.
Murphy, McGlynn and McGrath will return at various stages of the next month, while Patrick McBrearty’s cruciate injury means it will be the Ulster SFC opener against Fermanagh before he sees action.
Bonner referenced the full-back line of Conor Morrison, Brendan McCole and Caolan Ward at a press conference in Ballybofey yesterday.
“If you look at the full-back line, it’s a new, inexperienced one,” Bonner said ahead of a meeting with Meath in Ballybofey on Saturday night.
“They have played in all of the matches so far, the four McKenna Cup games and in the game against Clare at the weekend. That experience is invaluable.
“You gain belief and they can say they’re good enough. You build belief and trust. I’ve worked with a lot of these lads from right down the underage teams. They know what I expect and vice-versa.”