There are few opposing managers with such an in-depth knowledge of Donegal as Rory Gallagher.
Having spent three years as assistant manager to Jim McGuinness, Gallagher had a three-year stint as Donegal’s manager, walking away in the autumn of 2017 following a heavy qualifier loss to Galway.
Now managing his native Fermanagh, Gallagher will be aiming to take down a house he helped to build tomorrow.
At club level, Gallagher coaches Killybegs and counts Hugh McFadden and Eoghan Ban Gallagher – two likely starters for Donegal in tomorrow’s Ulster SFC clash at Brewster Park – among his players. Living in Killybegs, Gallagher studies Donegal football with an interest matched by few others.
It will count for something – but the conundrum for Gallagher and the Erne is that knowledge alone won’t win tomorrow’s game.
Gallagher has named two Championship debutants in his team – Johnny Cassidy and Ultan Kelm – for a repeat of last year’s Ulster final, which was won handsomely by Donegal.
Fermanagh, who will pack their defence, will attempt to take Donegal’s players to a dark place in the opening exchanges, but Donegal will be prepared for that onslaught.
“It’s a local derby and we know it’s going to be difficult going into Brewster Park and we have to be ready for that challenge,” Declan Bonner, the Donegal manager, said this week.
“That’s what we have been gearing towards for the last six to eight weeks.
“Yeah we know how Fermanagh are going to set up, and it’s up to us as a team to work our way through that.
“They are also capable of hurting on the counter-attack, and we have to be ready for that.”
Gallagher would likely have a fair stab at guessing Bonner’s selection for tomorrow, but the Donegal boss appears to have more aces to play.
Not least the return of Patrick McBrearty for what will be the Kilcar man’s first appearance for the county since the 2018 final, when he sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Donegal are expected to have Neil McGee in to curb the advances of Sean Quigley and with the likes of Stephen McMenamin, Paddy McGrath and Frank McGlynn tipped to be in the rearguard, there is plenty of steel and experience.
McFadden and Jason McGee are the likely men to get the nod at midfield, while Bonner has plenty of options in a forward line that will have Michael Murphy at its fulcrum.
Gallagher said of the Donegal captain: “Michael’s greatest strength is that I’m quite confident he would cut his father’s throat to win a game of football. I seen him in training cut boys in two to win a game of football. I’m on one side now and he is on the other and that’s the way it is.
“Michael’s return is immeasurable. I think never have Donegal relied on him as much as now and they have said that plenty of time over the last five years in particular. Since the slowing down of the likes Colm McFadden, Christy Toye, Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh, Karl Lacey’s careers but I think he is key to it.But, I would also say to that he is delighted to be playing in a re-energised forward line.”
While Gallagher talks of the Glenswilly man as ‘a player that we are going to have to make sure has a fairly quiet influence’, it is certainly easier said than done.
When Fermanagh beat Donegal this year in the League – their first League win in 40 years against Donegal – Neil McGee and Murphy were among those with a watching brief, Donegal electing to leave Murphy, who did a lengthy warm-up, in reserve.
Tomorrow, Murphy will be firmly in the firing line, while the likes of Michael Langan, Ciaran Thompson and Jamie Brennan have all had promising League outings, with injury expected to rule teenager Oisin Gallen out of what would have been a first Ulster SFC appearance.
Fermanagh had a solid League campaign and were perhaps unfortunate not to be in the final mix for promotion. Bonner believes his men got a ‘reminder’ in the defeat at O’Donnell Park in February.
Bonner knows all about Gallagher and Fermanagh. It’s 19 years now since a cheeky Gallagher goal gave Fermanagh a first Ulster SFC win over Donegal since 1934. That defeat in 2000 brought the curtain down on Bonner’s first spell as the Donegal manager. Little did he think, he’d be back again for a second calling.
Last year, Donegal were a whisker from an All-Ireland semi-final and Bonner is keen to take the front door route to the Super 8s./
He said: “There’s no doubt that the best way to go is by winning your province and getting straight into it.
“That’s what we will be aiming for. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s very difficult to go back-to-back, and we haven’t even looked past the first round on Sunday week, and that’s where our energy has been geared towards over the last eight weeks.”
It will surely be a source of frustration for Gallagher that, however much his side shake, Fermanagh seem unlikely to be in a position to topple Donegal’s structure with minimal attacking power by comparison. The frustration is heightened since it was he who helped lay the solid foundations on which they’re now built.
Verdict: Anything other than a Donegal win would be a major upset. Donegal to pull clear and advance.Tags: