RORY GALLAGHER is confident that Donegal are capable of pulling off an upset against All-Ireland champions Dublin in Saturday’s quarter-final at Croke Park.
Donegal famously toppled the Dubs in a semi-final in 2014 while Dublin had the edge on Donegal in an infamous semi-final clash in 2011.
Both games were seismic in terms of their legacy.
The 2011 game saw Jim McGuinnes tear the playbook to shreds when he stationed 14 men behind the ball. It is forgotten by most just how close Donegal were that day.
Colm McFadden skimmed a shot inches over the crossbar and the enforced withdrawal of Karl Lacey were pivotal moments in a game that could easily have swung Donegal’s way.[adrotate group=”43″]
McGuinness had Dublin in focus for some time.
Before that 2011 game, his players gathered in a hotel room and McGuinness began to speak: “This is Dublin. And this is how we’re going to beat them.”
It was a day that rocked the world. Dublin prevailed, but only just.
The McGuinness blueprint was only in its infancy then and Donegal returned with a greater attacking swagger in 2012 to win the All-Ireland.
When they met again in 2014, Donegal were given little hope but, again, McGuinness came armed with the plan and the tools.
It took patience and a lot of it early on. Donegal fell 0-8 to 0-3 behind and but for a superb save by Paul Durcan from Diarmuid Connolly, the blade would have pierced Donegal’s flesh by half-time.
But when the teams parted at the break, Ryan McHugh’s goal had Donegal 1-8 to 0-10 ahead. Dublin’s confidence and composure wilted in front of a stunned Croke Park as McHugh, again, and Colm McFadden netted further goals to send Donegal into September.
Gallagher was alongside McGuinness in 2011, but was outside of the circle in 2014.[adrotate group=”53″]
“Not an overly big shock,” is how Gallagher describes his feelings on that 2014 semi-final.
“Again, that year the boys had a hard path. They beat Derry, fair enough they disposed of Antrim fairly easy, they beat Monaghan and showed a lot of character to come through and beat Armagh.
“That battle-hardens you and gives you an awful lot of confidence. The boys played Dublin in an All-Ireland Under-21 final, a kick of the ball beat them, they played them in 2011, they know there is very little between the top teams.”
Donegal haven’t looked at their best of late, but Gallagher had an assured look about him at a press conference yesterday in Donegal town as he assessed his team’s changes this weekend.[adrotate group=”70″]
“The level of performance that we’re capable of, we feel we can beat anybody,” the Donegal manager said.
Dublin have coasted through to the quarter-final while Donegal have come through the mill to appear in the last eight for a sixth successive season.
Dublin have lost just two Championship games in the previous five summers – to Donegal in 2014 and to Mayo in 2012 – and go into Saturday’s game as the firm favourites.
“For sure they are beatable,” announced Gallagher.
“Dublin would be very much aware of that as well. To beat them you have to do an awful lot of things right.[adrotate group=”46″]
“You have to produce a level of intensity that is greater than theirs. You have to make sure when you get the chances that you put them away. That is the challenge for us.
“We are happy to get them now. We feel that we have had a consistent level of performances, we know that we are going to have to improve on that.
“I think our confidence has been high for a long period. We would be very happy with our level of performance.
“Yes, there are areas we could improve on. Throughout the Ulster Championship we did a lot of good things, our backs were to the wall a small bit against Cork.
“ We were five points down. There is an element of feeling a bit sorry for yourself which is natural after the setback in the Ulster Final.
“We are very pleased with the character of the boys, they dug it out very well. They put up a big score, probably the most we have scored in a points total in the last six years.”[adrotate group=”76″]
Donegal defeated Cork 0-21 to 1-15 on Saturday with Patrick McBrearty clipping 11 points for the Ulster finalists. While there was plenty of good about Donegal’s play, Gallagher knows that his rearguard can’t be as leaky again.
He said: “There is probably a perception that we would rather win 10-8 than 21 to 1-15, but we will take a win either way.
“I would be disappointed with our defending in the first half, us as a group we would pride ourselves on being hard to break down and being able to fill gaps.
“We would be disappointed with that, but the way the second half went we were able to limit Cork to six points throughout the second half. We closed things out fairly well.”
Donegal were heavily beaten in quarter-finals by Mayo in 2013 and 2015, but Gallagher believes his men to be better mentally this year.[adrotate group=”59″]
He said: “In comparing it to 2013 and 2015 there is much more clarity in our focus.
“We are into the All Ireland series now and we knew we did an awful lot right against Tyrone. We were leading going into injury time.
“We are coming off the bounce of a good win in Croke Park, kicking 0-21 and nobody injured and that is a nice way to be going into battle.
“We have seen Tyrone in the noughties coming through the back door, we have seen Kerry doing it, bouncing off winning games week after week. If you are injury free it is a good way to be going in.”[adrotate group=”52″]
With the exception of Neil Gallagher, who hasn’t played since March, Donegal have a clean bill of health.
Very much like 2011 and 2014, you get a sense that this is a game Gallagher has been readying his men for.
The Donegal manager said: “While you have a very firm focus on your next opponent, that’s part of it – you can’t just land coming up the road on Saturday night and say ‘Jeez, what are we going to do about Dublin?’”