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Monday 19 August 2019

Gallagher blow adds to Donegal backs dilemma

Eoghan Bán Gallagher
Eoghan Bán Gallagher

Even before Eoghan Bán Gallagher suffered what appears to be a season-ending ankle injury at training on Wednesday night, there were question marks over the Donegal defence.

Now those doubts are sure to intensify in Gallagher's absence, just as Declan Bonner's impressive Ulster champions face into their biggest challenge to date.

Kerry's attack, so rampant against Mayo five days ago, come to Croke Park on Sunday aiming for the second Super 8s win that would surely seal their advance to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Donegal have generally excelled thus far, delivering a standout semi-final display against Tyrone en route to retaining Ulster.

Coughed

But, while they comfortably saw off Cavan and blew Meath away in the home straight of their Super 8s opener, both of those contests showcased issues with Bonner's defence.

They coughed up two late goals against Cavan, perhaps forgiveable given their iron-grip on that Ulster final. Last Sunday, however, a mixture of sloppiness and porousness after the break was only partially punished (by a Mickey Newman penalty) as three more goal chances only added 0-1 to Meath's total.

Gallagher was a long way shy of his thrilling best in Ballybofey, but he's such a dynamic and pacey counter-attacker that Donegal fans were eagerly awaiting his return to a Croke Park pitch surely made for him.

Not now, amid reports - yet to be confirmed by the Donegal county board - that the "serious leg injury" suffered at training on Wednesday night is a season-ending broken ankle.

Up to now, Donegal have been so fluent and free-scoring in attack (cue a return of 4-74 in four SFC games) that any defensive frailties have not been costly.

But with Gallagher out and Paddy McGrath an injury doubt after he pulled up in the warm-up last weekend, the Ulster kingpins look stretched at precisely the wrong time - as David Clifford & Co head for HQ.

Even before Gallagher's injury, former Donegal forward Brendan Devenney had identified defence as a potential area for concern.

"With Donegal, basically from their half-back line up, it's nearly all attacking. So it's about being able to defend at the other end," Devenney warned.

"If you're on about Dublin and the possibility of maybe playing them (down the line), Donegal's defence is going to get the same type of workout on Sunday.

"I think Kerry's forward line is as good as Dublin's - individually anyway, maybe not just as a unit," continues Devenney.

Contenders

"It's more a test for Donegal than it is for Kerry," the BBC pundit expanded, "because I think that Kerry performance (against Mayo) has put them back into No 2 in terms of contenders.

"Because of Donegal's issues at the back, this is going to tell a lot. It's Croke Park, a fast-playing pitch and that's why the Dubs have been so successful, the pace they possess, and Kerry have got that.

"I think Kerry are definitely the team that's No 2 to Dublin now, and how they get on with Donegal is going to be fascinating."

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