GAA Football

Donegal boss Rory Gallagher wary ahead of tough Tyrone test

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher expects a much tougher test from Tyrone this Sunday than in their League meeting. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Gerry McLaughlin

Maybe it is his "Tyrone side" but there is no doubt that Donegal team manager Rory Gallagher has nothing but the height of respect for his mother's native county.

And there are few who know more about Mickey I Harte and the Red Hands as Gallagher also has a strong Ballygawley connection through his dad.

As a child and young man he followed the Red Hands and has deep admiration for Peter Canavan and his earliest memories are of attending the All-Ireland final of 1986 when they lost narrowly to Kerry.

So there is no doubt that despite that facile NFL League victory over Tyrone, Gallagher is wary of a team that pulled off a late "smash and grab act" to deprive him of a first Ulster title last year.

This time the stakes could not be higher which might partly explain a very low- key press night where Gallagher was the only occupant in the glare of the cameras, pens and journos desperately hoping for a "good line".

It is clear that Donegal does not want any undue distractions as they prepare for what could be the mother of all battles in Clones on Sunday.

And when asked where he thinks the main threat could come from the Red Hands, he is unequivocal.

"It is the nature of the way Tyrone play that even their defence is a threat.

"It is exceptionally difficult to break down and that then gives them a massive advantage on the counter attack.

"It is the way they play their football, they have a fairly definitive way of playing.

"They don't go orthodox, I know they experimented a wee bit in the League but they don't paly traditional in the way that Dublin and Kerry might play-although they (Kerry and Dublin) also get lots of men behind the ball although they too play a very distinctive counter attacking game.

"Tyrone get a lot of kick outs away, they run the ball very well and overall they are very strong".

And even though Sean Cavanagh is in the veteran category, Gallagher name checks him as still being "very important to Tyrone".

And Donegal have some painful memories that amazing "hanging basket point" where the ball tantalizingly seemed to defy gravity for an instant before resting gently just over the Tir Conaill crossbar to level matter in added time.

And, this was done after Cavanagh had shrugged off three tacklers.

"Mark Bradley is buzzing inside and they have an awful lot of talented players to bring on.

"Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Niall Sludden and Conor Meyler and they just have some many quality players".

So how do you stop this juggernaut, one journo tentatively enquires?

"It is difficult and you just have to accept that you are just not going to be able to stop them all the time.

"You have to get yourself back and you have to get the guys who are supposed to be marking them to do just that.

"It's old fashioned but sometimes you have match-ups.

"Some teams play a zonal system it depend on whether we go zonal or marking.

"Mark some players or don't mark others so from that point of view every game is different".

Gallagher watched Tyrone against Derry and noted "small subtle changes to their style" but naturally does not elaborate.

"All big teams, there are very few of them that change their style too dramatically".

And in the nod to the very obvious he adds:

"Most teams play a very similar style of football.

"There are periods when there are 13 and 14 men behind the ball and that is just how it is".

But he admits that Donegal have something extra this year and it's the new "game changer" called pace.

And this new, young and hungry Donegal side is very much in the image of their current manager following some seismic changes earlier this year.

"That is to do with the age profile of the players.

"Last year we were carrying a lot of players who were from 30-33 and unfortunately it is not old in life, but it is old in Gaelic football terms these days.

And then a question is dropped in softly as to whether Michael Murphy was possibly a bit excessively targeted by Tyrone last year?

"Michael is a big player and everybody knows that.

"Nobody knows that more than myself and the boys in our group.

"He is a very talented player and there are very few days that he goes out that he does not get tight marking.

"I'd nearly say it is a relief for him to get playing county football where he might just have to cope with one close marker as there are usually two and three around him in club football.

"It is a challenge that he always rises to, nothing worthwhile comes easy and that is something the rest of the squad are also very aware of.

"Tyrone have a fairly distinct style of play in that they don't mark many players but he is one they usually mark.

"He is used to close attention over the last number of years.

'You don't see him complaining too much as he just gets on with it.

"That's the way he plays.

"He is disciplined and was not the best tackler a fee years ago but he has worked on that side of his game.

"Michael does not get enough credit for the way he has improved his tackling.

"He was picking up a few cards a few year ago but that has improved a lot".

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