Young Donegal stars must go through tough days to reach the top says boss Rory Gallagher
THE current crop of Donegal players have to come through tough days before the county can dream of emerging as a major force again, according to Rory Gallagher.
A surprise 15-point defeat to Galway on Saturday night saw the Tir Chonaill fail to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final stage for the first time since 2010, and came just five weeks after they were well beaten by Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final.
Gallagher has always spoken openly about the rebuilding job that is needed in Donegal as several of the stars of Jim McGuinness’s reign exit the inter-county stage.
And, despite a tough Championship summer, he feels it is far too early to judge the young players coming through.
"Absolutely. They have to bed in,” said the Fermanagh man, who faced questions about his own future in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat in Sligo.
“It's a tough day. We were in Croke Park in 2013 against Mayo, that was a similar type day. It's not easy. The boys who ended up having good careers have had a lot of tough days.
“I know at the end of last year I felt we came up the road beaten by Dublin knowing it was the end of the road clearly. We got off light that night. Five points, we relied a lot on experience. I, for one, didn’t expect these boys to just land on the scene and be able to compare with the top teams.
"We felt we had to invest heavily in the League, the lads did a lot of training. Physically they are trying to get themselves to a level, but this was a rude awakening.
"We have a lack of experience. There is Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee out of our defence, from goalkeeper to left half-back they are the only two that played in 2014. All those lads are in their first or second year playing inter-county football.
“We know we are exceptionally inexperienced.”
Perhaps their performances during the National League offered false hope.
After an opening day defeat to Kerry, Donegal’s young guns bounced back to record wins over Roscommon, Tyrone and Cavan, as well as drawing with Monaghan and reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin.
Yet the step up to Championship level has, perhaps unsurprisingly, given a better indication of where Donegal stand.
Gallagher added: "We would have been very clear in our dressing-room where we were at.
“Other teams approached the League differently to us. We had a lot of work done coming into the league, we needed to have that to have any chance to compete before other teams moved up the gears physically.
“We would have done that ourselves over the years and got ready for Championship more than League. We are well aware that the lads were going to struggle and physically it's one area where we feel we are well down.
“We've had a team that that has served Donegal well for 10, 11, 12 13 years and knew it was the break up of it. You just don’t arrive and compete with the big guns.”
Among those likely to be considering their futures are the likes of 2012 All-Ireland winners Neil McGee and Karl Lacey, and Gallagher admits he expects to lose more experience from the panel before next year.
“We know there are going to be players leaving,” he said.
“It started gradually with the likes of Paul Durcan and Rory Kavanagh, we knew it was coming fast this year and there will be a couple more, no doubt. You can’t continue to be playing with Donegal from 2003/2004 and still be playing in 2018.”