Donegal in unfamiliar territory as league leaders in February

Two wins from two as traditionally slow Division One starters find winning rhythm

This is all very unlike the Donegal we’ve become used to at this time of year: top of the league after two wins from two games, with a points difference of +27.

For the last time they won their first two games of the year in Division One, you have to go back as far as 2008. They have never been a February team.

Rory Gallagher wouldn't be rushing to call them one this year either, but the numbers are hard to quarrel with.

Cork left Ballybofey with a thrashing, before Donegal went to Newry and hammered Down for their first away win in the top division in seven years.


A stat like that doesn’t mean a lot in the abstract, but it’s a long time sitting on quiet buses home all the same, so it was well worth putting an end to it.

On a roll

“We were very much conscious of it because of the amount of times it was said in the media,” says Gallagher.

“But sure the way we looked at it, we drew with Mayo in our last away game last year. We were one game unbeaten – considering what went before it, we were on a roll!

“And now we’re two games unbeaten so we’ll have to look about keeping that going. But no, any success we’ve had in the league over the past few years was very reliant on our home form, so it’s definitely something we have to address. We got Down at a good time – they’re just starting out under a new manager. But there’s no doubt we’ll have stiffer tests away from home . . .

“We typically haven’t done that well early in the year. Like last year we had a decent start against Cork, but then lost a couple in a row. And we’ve done nothing really new this year.

“We definitely wouldn’t have had very much work done going into the break. We’re lucky enough to have a lot of young players who are in good shape naturally and they’ve seen us through the first two games.

“But this next three weeks is always the period that puts a bit of shape on the league.”


In other years, Donegal have been cursed with having a fractured panel at this time of year, with up to half the squad in college or working in Dublin. The older profile nowadays means it’s less of an issue, with only a handful of players not based in Donegal. Then the recent trip to Tenerife for four days’ training can’t hurt either. Gallagher brought 33 to La Caleta the day after the Down game and says they found it productive.

Enjoyed ourselves

“We had a great time. We enjoyed ourselves and we enjoyed each other’s company. We got a great bit of work done, which was the main thing. We trained a couple of times both days and we played an awful lot of football. We have a late start in the championship on June 12th so there’s no need to overly panic about our fitness levels. We have plenty of time to do that.

“It was great to be able to train like a professional team and to have good down time together, to be able to talk about our tactical work and individual player needs, as well as some video analysis.”

For Mayo’s visit on Sunday, Christy Toye and Neil Gallagher are in the reckoning. Karl Lacey is being held for another few weeks to allow Gallagher look at some fresher faces. Colm McFadden will likely see game time either against Kerry or Roscommon. For now, some of the squad players are getting to make their pitch and a fair few are leaving an impression.

“These lads are young . . . but they’ve been around the panel for a few years. Peter Boyle, Eamon Doherty, Hugh McFadden – all these boys have been around the fringes for three or four years. Eoin McHugh is in his second year; he’s been with the under-21s.

New blood

“We wanted to get new blood and we feel there’s a few more coming. Ciarán Thompson has been with us; Darach O’Connor will be back from his cruciate hopefully before the end of the league. There’s a young lad Rory Carr coming back from a shoulder; another Micheál Carroll, who was with the minors for the last two years. So there’s a few coming through there.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times