DONEGAL MANAGER RORY GALLAGHER wants his team to go into this year’s Ulster Championship completely unpredictable.
If there has been a criticism of Donegal in what has been a golden age for the county’s footballers since 2011, it is perhaps that they haven’t had that unpredictability.
Gallagher wants all of that to change.
Donegal have found it difficult in the last couple of years when faced with a team that is a mirror image of themselves.
Against Monaghan in the League last year, Donegal were suffocated and managed to score just four points against Monaghan.
When Monaghan, Down and Armagh have mirrored Donegal’s style, the Tír Chonaill men have struggled to the point of frustration.
“Probably last year, to be fair, we became predictable,” says Gallagher, who takes his high-flying team – with three wins from three Allianz League games – to Tralee to take on Kerry on Sunday.
“If you do the same thing over and over again, it can be easy enough for teams to work out.
“We want to change that. What we’re looking for, big time, is some flexibility – and that goes for during games as well. We need to be adaptable and can’t be afraid of making change.”
Gallagher has yet to welcome Karl Lacey and Colm McFadden into a match day squad in 2016, while Neil Gallagher, Leo McLoone and Martin McElhinney haven’t yet started a League game.
The Donegal manager is mulling over several options, both positional and personnel wise.
The old chestnut of Michael Murphy’s best position is revisited now on a regular basis, but the magnifying of that topic has maybe served to ignore that Gallagher actually has several dilemmas to solve in the next three months.
So far this year, Patrick McBrearty, Odhrán Mac Niallais, Leo McLoone, Hugh McFadden and Murphy have spent time on the edge of the square.
Mac Niallais, McLoone, McFadden and Murphy have also been deployed at centre field, while McBrearty found himself playing a deeper-lying role than usual for a time against Mayo in Ballybofey last Sunday.
The likes of Christy Toye, Rory Kavanagh, Ciaran Thompson and McElhinney are equally comfortable at centrefield or as half-forwards.
Frank McGlynn made his name at half-back, but has been performing well in the attack this year and the likes of the McHugh cousins – Mark, Ryan and Eoin – and Martin O’Reilly are equally comfortable in either half-back or half-forward positions.
“We certainly have a lot of options within options,” Rory Gallagher says.
“We’d like to expand on the versatility. A lot of our players can play in a lot of positions. Look at Leo McLoone for instance – he’s probably played everywhere from centre-back to full-forward for Donegal and for Naomh Conaill he has been very effective at midfield.
“We don’t want to be easy to be worked out. The fundamentals will stay the same. We’ll be hard working, we’ll have high intensity and we want players to kick the scores.
“We’re happy how that’s going for us so far. Players are getting on the scoreboard for us from all over and that’s what we want.
“We’ll chop and change it as we see fit. Even during the game last week that was evident, where we changed things around in the second half and had a different style of play for the second half.
“In every game, we’ll look at what suits us and that’s why we’ll try and be as flexible as possible.”
One area of concern last week against Mayo was the kick-outs, with Mayo picking up the lion’s share, including nine from 11 in the first-half alone, which included a sequence of seven-in-a-row.
Peter Boyle is in possession of the number 1 shirt with the future for double All-Star Paul Durcan still unclear.
“Paul was playing with these guys almost exclusively for ten years and while it’ll take Peter time to develop that level of understanding, it wasn’t actually something that annoyed me,” Gallagher says.
“The big thing that annoyed me was that we were cleaned out, not in the air, but in the breaking ball. We were very disappointed with both the Mayo kickouts and our own and how we didn’t win enough ball.
“We improved in the second half which was a good thing for us.”
Donegal are as good as safe in Division 1 and head for the Kingdom with maximum points and with a points difference of +29.
Although the League semi-finals are now a distinct possibility, Gallagher’s main aim is to grow those options for June 12th, when they have a Championship joust with Fermanagh or Antrim.
Gallagher says: “It’s only a seven-game season in the League so we want to go out and give it everything in every game. We may look at new players here and there, but just because we have six points doesn’t mean it’ll be relaxed.
“I won’t accept anything less than 100 per cent any day we go out.”
Between now and June, Gallagher aims to make the predictable unpredictable and perhaps turn the immovable object into an irresistible force.