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Sunday 23 April 2017

Rory: It's like day one again

All change for Donegal as they prepare to try halt Dublin's unbeaten run in Ballybofey

Dublin’s Paul Flynn and Ciarán Kilkenny battle it out in the air with Donegal’s Ciarán Gillespie, as Denis Bastick waits to react, during last August’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Paul Flynn and Ciarán Kilkenny battle it out in the air with Donegal’s Ciarán Gillespie, as Denis Bastick waits to react, during last August’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile

Rory Gallagher goes back to that last-day-of-the-League afternoon in Ballybofey in 2013, when a Paul Mannion point secured a draw for Dublin and relegated Donegal.

"It was a game that we felt we needed to win more than Dublin," Gallagher, now Donegal's manager but then a selector to Jim McGuinness recalled this week in conversation with the Herald.

"We needed to win to survive and we went four or five points up and Dublin pegged us back. They showed a phenomenal hunger that day.

"Since that, it hasn't really - if ever - dropped."

The topic is Dublin's ability to pull results from positions of grave uncertainty and if their draw with Tyrone in Croke Park two weeks ago is the most recent example, Gallagher's citation is also a classic of the genre.

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher and Dublin’s Jim Gavin will battle it out on the sideline once again in Sunday’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash in Ballybofey. Pic: Sportsfile
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher and Dublin’s Jim Gavin will battle it out on the sideline once again in Sunday’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash in Ballybofey. Pic: Sportsfile

He is both well aware that Dublin will pass the two-year mark unbeaten in League and Championship should they avoid defeat back in Ballybofey on Sunday and the value of being the team that ends that run.

"The team that does topple them is going to be a happy team for a couple of days, there's no doubt about that," the former St Brigid's player acknowledges.

"They're the bench mark. They've been consistently brilliant."

Just now, Gallagher is trying to convince a hugely youthful squad that they are good enough to live with the best teams in the country.

Beating Dublin would be a fair argument in favour.

And while Jim Gavin's team's loss-less streak is naturally attracting all the GAA world's attention, it shouldn't be discounted that Donegal haven't suffered a defeat in Ballybofey in 15 competitive matches.

Still, the list of players no longer in the Donegal squad from this time last year is long and illustrious, lengthened and embellished this week by the addition of Neil Gallagher.

His manager admits now the announcement was expected.

"Hand on heart, yeah we did. He went to rehab his back since then but it just hasn't been successful.

"We always felt it would have been a bonus to have him."

The change has been swift and marked.

Of the team that beat Roscommon in Donegal's last outing in what was amazingly, just their fourth away League win in 10 years, just five players from the 2012 All-Ireland SFC winning team played a part.

"It's like day one. It's like a new team," Galllagher explains.

"That's the way we've approached it as managers and players. It's like a new beginning.

"When we sat down with the players who were going to be staying on; the Ryan McHughs, Paddy McGrath, Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty - we said 'let's go back to day one', a bit like the way we approached it in 2011 when Jim (McGuinness) was involved.

"So we've gone at it really hard. And we intend to go at it really hard for a long time.

"When I got back involved at the end of 2014, we were trying to prolong the existing team and bring in a couple of the younger players and develop them as well.

"But we did drag it out. That was a decision I made. I felt it gave us the best chance to be successful. So we knew this day was coming."

As each big name departed, Gallagher kept hearing echoes of the same question about the drain of experience and character from his dressing-room.

There are, he notes, some benefit to to such exodus too.

"The reality is, people always expect the Neil Gallaghers, Karl Laceys, Rory Kavanaghs, Eamon McGees, Colm Faddens, even if they're not out early in the League, that they'll get their places in the team (in the Championship).

"Now the situation is that no matter what, some of these young players are going to play in the Championship.

"And that penny has dropped with them.

"Plus, with older players, you're always managing a situation. They have a lot of wear and tear.

"They're not coming back into training at the same time as some of the younger players.

energy

"That dynamic has changed completely this year. We've had a really good pre-season. So there's definitely a different energy in the dressing-room."

His task now, Gallagher admits, is to marry transition with competitiveness.

"We've had a relatively glorious era," he points out. "And from the players and the management point of view, we want to continue that.

"And while we feel that while it's been a great era, we've lost two under-21 finals, we've lost three Ulster finals, an All-Ireland senior (final) and a minor (final).

"We've had a lot of tough days in that period, which is very character-building.

"So," Gallagher concludes, "the reality for us is that's the level we want to be at.

"Because it's the level we've become accustomed to."

donegal v dublin, sunday, Live tg4 (2.0)

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