Donegal fancied to beat youthful Cavan in Ulster opener
Last updated on .From the section Northern Ireland
Holders Donegal will be expected to account for Cavan's youthful line-up in Sunday's Ulster Senior Football opener at Breffni Park [15:30 BST].
Donegal had something of a winter of discontent after Kevin Cassidy's candid account of the 2011 season incurred the wrath of manager Jim McGuinness.
Cassidy remains out but his absence and Michael Murphy's unavailability shouldn't unduly affect the outcome.
Cavan's five championship debutants include Under-21 star Jack Brady.
Of course Cavan had their own internal troubles in recent weeks with manager Val Andrews stepping down little over a month ago after apparently losing the confidence of the squad.
Terry Hyland, who had been part of Andrews backroom team over the past couple of years, quickly was handed the managerial reins after guiding the under-21s to a second successive provincial title this year.
Hyland hands championship debuts to five players for Sunday's clash after shaking up the squad in recent weeks.
Kevin Meehan, Niall Smith, Robert Maloney-Derham, Brendan Fitzpatrick and Ulster Under-21 winner Brady start at senior level for the first time.
Last year's Under-21 winning captain Gearoid McKiernan is back after missing the entire league campaign with injury.
John McCutcheon, who rejoined the panel recently, starts at centre half-back for the game at Breffni Park.
Only one of this year's Under-21 winning team, Brady, is included in the starting fifteen for Sunday's preliminary round tie.
Leo McCloone is being tipped to replace the absent Cassidy at left half-back with Neil Gallagher expected to shake off an injury to link up with captain Rory Kavanagh at midfield.
Karl Lacey has also had an injury issue in the build-up to Sunday's game but is expected to start at centre half-back.
Reports have suggested that Martin McElhinney's fitness may also be an issue for Jim McGuinness with Martin O'Reilly being tipped as a contender to earn a championship debut.
If O'Reilly does start, he is likely to be Donegal's only championship debutant with Mark McHugh, Ryan Bradley, Patrick McBrearty, Colm McFadden and David Walsh expected to line out in attack.
Michael Murphy will miss the game following recent knee surgery but is optimistic that he will be fit for the Ulster quarter-final against Derry on 16 June if Donegal win on Sunday.
Donegal's defensive style of football generated much unfavourable comment last summer and a shock early departure from the Ulster Championship would probably go down well with a few southern pundits.
However, the likelihood is that they will be around in the Ulster Championship until at least 16 June and probably beyond.
Cavan: J Reilly, P O'Reilly, D Reilly, R Flanagan, K Meehan, J McCutcheon, R Maloney-Derham, D Givney, G McKiernan, F Flanagan, M McKeever, N Smith, J Brady, E Keating, B Fitzpatrick
Donegal (probable): P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn, A Thompson, K Lacey, L McLoone, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh, M McElhinney, M McHugh, R Bradley, P McBrearty, C McFadden, D Walsh
WEEKEND GAA FIXTURES
Christy Ring Cup quarter-finals
Derry v London [Celtic Park, 14:00 BST]
Meath v Kildare [Navan, 14:30]
Leinster Hurling Championship
Westmeath v Antrim [Mullingar, 15:00]
Carlow v Laois [Dr Cullen Park, 19:00]
Nicky Rackard Cup quarter-finals
Sligo v Louth [Markievicz Park, 14:30]
Roscommon v Monaghan [Athleague, 14:30]
Ulster SFC preliminary round
Cavan v Donegal [Kingspan Breffni Park, 15:30]
Roscommon v Galway [Dr Hyde Park, 16:00]
Westmeath v Louth [Navan, 15:30]
Longford v Laois [Pearse Park, 15:30]
Limerick v Waterford [Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 15:30]
Lory Meagher Cup
Longford v Liatroim [TBC]