Gallagher and Donegal braced for Dublin test

Ulster champions’ next assignment is against All-Ireland holders at Croke Park in Super-8s

Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher scores his side’s opening goal against Fermanagh in the Ulster  final at Clones. Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

Donegal’s Eoghan Bán Gallagher scores his side’s opening goal against Fermanagh in the Ulster final at Clones. Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

 

Out of the province and into the litmus test. Such was the relative ease with which both Donegal and Dublin won their provincial titles that they may not feel properly tested until their next game – when they play each other.

With the Super 8 quarter-finals stage now shaping up, what is already certain is that Dublin will host Donegal in the Group Two opener in Croke Park on July 14th-15th: it’s their first meeting since Dublin beat Donegal in the 2016 quarter-final, a day of some revenge after Donegal beat Dublin in the 2014 semi-final.

That remains Dublin’s only championship defeat under current manager Jim Gavin, but Donegal will bring something of a fresh and unknown challenge to Croke Park this time.

Sunday’s 2-18 to 0-12 win over Fermanagh included 13 different scorers, and brought to 8-76 their Ulster championship tally. Donegal could only manage 1-10 against Dublin in 2016.

Among those who didn’t feature in that 2016 quarter-final is Hugh McFadden, the Killybegs man named at midfield but largely filling in at full back for the suspended Neil McGee at full back. Killybegs teammate Eoghan Bán Gallagher was named at corner back but ended up joint top scorer, with 1-1, just some reflection of the new dynamic of this Donegal team under Declan Bonner, in his first season as manager.

“The older fellas were dragging us along there for long enough, it was time for us younger fellas to step up and realise that we are a big part of the team, everyone’s in it together rowing behind the one boat,” says Gallagher.

“It’s everybody’s job to attack and it’s everybody’s job to defend, everybody’s running the team. You could see even the fellas coming off the bench really strongly, Cian Mulligan has got two goals off the bench and performed well so there’s severe competition for places in the squad and that’s only positive.

“It’s a positive but at the end of the day it’s all about winning, if we get over the line no one ever remembers the scoreline in an Ulster final, we won at the end of the day.”

It was Gallagher’s first Ulster title, and only Donegal’s ninth in all, and despite the prophets of doom around the provincial series, he clearly still appreciates the prize.

“Ever since I was a young boy, that’s all I’ve ever dreamed of was going up the steps in Clones and lifting that cup, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Well short

“We fell well short last year and it was a tough place to be but it’s great to finally be back in the All-Ireland quarter-finals having gone through the front door and lifted the Ulster cup first. It’s the worst dressing room in the world to be in, a losing dressing room of an Ulster final. I’ve been in three now, one under-21 and two senior, it’s all doom and gloom and to see the change in atmosphere now today, it makes it even more special.”

 McFadden is equally happy with his role on the team, wherever that may be: I’ll play wherever it takes for this team to win. I know a lot of people say that’s a cliché, but if Declan Bonner asked me to stand by the corner all flag all day, I don’t care who gets the credit. And when you’ve a team that don’t care who gets the credit they’ll take you a long way.

“I played full forward last year, I was played full back today. I don’t really mind where. You know, those winning margins probably flatter us a wee bit. We’re not hiding from it, people probably said we were on the easier side of the draw, and any year that Tyrone and Monaghan are already knocked out before the final, you have to make the most of it. It’s not that we’re hiding behind those scores, but we came out and beat who we had to beat, and still have a lot of respect for every team we played this year.”

And looking forward to Super 8s?

“Look, it’s unknown territory for everybody. We don’t know what it’s going to throw up. We’re happy where we are at the minute.

“We lost an Ulster championship by one point to a very good Monaghan team in 2015, we lost an Ulster championship to Tyrone after a humdinger of a game in 2016, two savage scores. Last year unfortunately things didn’t go our way, but there are good players on this team, and we’re going to hope on that for the next few years going forward.”

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