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Patrick McBrearty: Jim McGuinness worried Kilcar man may have sustained 'significant injury'

Jim McGuinness, who guided Donegal to the All-Ireland in 2012, was appointed manager for the second time in August
Jim McGuinness spoke about his major misgivings about the split season after Donegal's win over Meath in Ballybofey

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has admitted his concern that skipper Patrick McBrearty may have picked up a "fairly significant" injury in Saturday's win over Meath.

McBrearty and the also influential Ryan McHugh were both forced off during the Division Two win at Ballybofey.

The captain looked in some discomfort as he went off after 20 minutes.

"When you see a guy like that going off in that manner, you're always worried," said the Donegal boss.

"Patrick is probably the obvious one definitely. We'll have to see how that develops over the next couple of days.

"You're playing in a dead rubber game today and you've a fairly significant injury and maybe another one so it's not ideal.

"It's not what we want but we're going to have to dust ourselves down now and get ready for next weekend."

Patrick McBrearty celebrates after scoring a goal against Cork in late January
Patrick McBrearty has been in superb form for Donegal during this year's league after missing most of last season because of a hamstring injury

McBrearty missed most of last last season because of a hamstring season but has been one of Donegal's most impressive campaigners so far in 2024 as they county comfortably secured a return to Division One.

The injuries to the two Kilcar men will only serve to increase McGuinness' own misgivings about the condensed nature of the current inter-county season, with the start of the championship immediately following next weekend's Allianz Football League finals, where Donegal will face Armagh in the Division Two decider.

"You are here tonight and it could be a hamstring injury or a calf injury and you're thinking 'that could be him gone [for the season]'.

"There is no time and I think that's harsh and hard on players. The split-season for me doesn't allow the championships to breathe.

"It doesn't allow people in communities to have conversations about the game and then look forward to two weeks or whatever it is, three weeks to the next game and have a conversation around that.

"It's just constant rushing and pressure and if that pressure is there on coaches and managers, players will feel that as well."

'Are we just going to have one cup?'

McGuinness is also concerned that the back-to-back nature of the league and championship is effectively devaluing the divisional league finals as managers mull over whether not risking players in the Croke Park games, with the championship coming up so fast.

"The manager has to make a decision. Am I going all in there to win that or am I going to hold that and in inverted commas, 'not respect the competition'. That's decisions managers have to make.

"If that decision was taken out of the manager's hands and there was breathing space, I think every manager in the country would be saying 'we're going to go for that'.

"Sometimes it's hard to get the head round it. People called for the Railway Cup to go. The Railway Cup has gone. They are calling for the provincials to go. Now they are calling for the league finals to go. Are we going to be left with one cup? One or two teams historically win that cup."

Brendan McCole with Armagh's Andrew Murnin during last season's Division One game
Brendan McCole (right) looks certain to be ruled out of Donegal's Division Two Final against Armagh next week and faces a race against time to be fit for the Ulster SFC opener against Derry

McGuinness says next week's game against Armagh will be a very useful exercise ahead of Donegal's Ulster Championship opener against provincial holders Derry at Celtic Park on 20 April but added that he is likely to make a number of changes to include players who have not featured yet in the campaign because of injury.

"It's great preparation for Derry in terms of a contest and the opposition and going to Croke Park. But we do need to look at players as well.

"There are other players on the periphery who hopefully will play next weekend that we haven't seen so far. We need to try and develop those lads and get minutes into their legs, with a view to summer football."

Full-back Brendan McCole remains out because of a foot injury and races a race against time to be fit for the Ulster SFC opener.

"He was in a boot for the last couple of weeks. He's walking now," added McGuinness of McCole.

"We're hoping to get him built up over the next couple of weeks and hopefully there's no reaction to that. It's week by week."