Rory Gallagher sums up Donegal's Super 8 prospects
Donegal are capable of beating Meath, Kerry and Mayo in the up-coming Super 8 clashes.
And siting Neil McGee on the edge of the square plus the firm location of Hugh McFadden as a designated sweeper in front of McGee was a huge learning curve for Tir Conaill and helped turn their season.
Also, Donegal keeper Shaun Patton’s influence is “immeasurable” and he can “do things that even the great Stephen Cluxton can’t from two yards”
Those are just three of the interesting takes on Donegal and the Super 8’s from Rory Gallagher - a man who knows more than most about the current squad.
Gallagher coached Tir Conaill to All-Ireland Senior Football glory in 2012 and led them to two Ulster finals which they narrowly lost in 2015 and 2016.
As such he is in a better position than most to assess the chances of the current squad as they tackle Meath in Ballybofey in Sunday.
“In the NFL final there was one big learning from that game for Donegal,'' said Gallagher.
“You saw Neil McGee planted in the full-back line and they put in Hugh McFadden as a designated sweeper.
“I think there were big learnings that day as the middle of the Donegal defence had been ripped apart and I think they have learned massively from it.
“And apart from winning the League final, it will also go down as the day Donegal that Donegal learned a lot.”
Gallagher add that on paper you would imagine Donegal should win it, but he cautioned: “Meath will take heart from beating Clare and it would not have been easy to recover from that heavy defeat to Dublin.
“But with all due respect, Donegal should be much better than Meath.
“When they got to grips with them in the NFL final, there was always going to be only one winner.”
But even if Tir Conaill get over Meath, an exciting, attacking youthful Kerry team lie in wait in Croke Park - before a final daunting trip to Castlebar to take on the mercurial Mayo.
Gallagher belives the Kerry game could be a huge match: “From the outside it looks like a three-horse race between Donegal, Kerry and Mayo with no disrespect to Meath.
“But to me it is the toughest group by far once it became apparent that Dublin were in the other group.”
So it looks like Donegal will HAVE to beat Kerry, assuming they get over a potential Meath banana skin and they face the spectre of Mayo in Castlebar.
“Yes if I was Mayo, and I Iost to Kerry in Killarney I would fancy a winner takes all clash with Donegal in Castlebar,'' he said.
“But it is very important for Donegal to look after business next week and Ballybofey is a huge advantage.
“But having said the Donegal learned a lot from their last match with Meath they will have learned a lot to in how to deal with Michael (Murphy).
“I thought Shaun Patton’s kick outs caused Meath and awful lot of trouble as well.
“So there are huge learnings for Meath also but I expect Donegal to prevail on Sunday.”
Donegal are coming off the back of a great display in the Ulster final against Cavan.
“I thought it might have been closer, but Donegal are exceptionally dangerous when they get the ball,'' said Gallagher.
“I think Shaun Patton’s influence is immeasurable.
“I think he can do things than even Stephen Cluxton can’t do from two yards.
“He can kick the ball further than Cluxton - the technique he has in kicking the ball over 60 yards is remarkable.
“It is very hard then to know when he is going for a short kick out.
“When teams squeeze up on him, he has ripped them apart.
“If I was the opposition I would stand off him a bit, not necessarily the way Fermanagh did, but he caused us least trouble of all the teams that he has caused.
“But if Donegal get the ball from one of Patton’s kick-outs, they have enough pace to destroy you.”
But what of Kerry?
“Kerry’s defence is weak so maybe they will change their style of play.'' he stated.
“Donegal played Kerry in a challenge match before the Championship and it was exceptionally high scoring.
“Kerry usually learn, and I can’t see Kerry persisting with a man-for-man style of defence.
“I don’t think they are good enough for this year’s All-Ireland title if they do that - they have an awful lot of quality up front, but is Paul Geaney playing as well as he can?
“On paper he is a great player and the also have Sean O’Shea, James O’Donoghue and David Clifford and if they click into gear, they could destroy you.”
So can Donegal beat Kerry?
“Without a doubt, 10 years or more we had enormous respect almost fear of Kerry, but I don’t think that fear is there any more, it is long gone,” he ventured.
And there was no fear in 2012 when Jim McGuinness and Gallagher masterminded a famous victory over the Kingdom, en-route to an All-Ireland title.
“We beat a Kerry team that still had the Ó Sés and Colm Cooper, this is an emerging Kerry team and we have a more mature team as we also have Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Leo McLoone and Paddy McGrath along with the younger players.”
But Mayo lie in wait in the final match?
“Mayo are the unbelievable survivors bit I was not overly impressed with them on Saturday night,'' he said.
“Most of their best players have played their best football.
“They are playing a long time, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin is probably not in the form he was.
“I would never write them off and it is a month until they play Donegal.
“If I was them, I would be saying get these players back, get Lee Keegan get another game out of Cillian O’Connor and get Diarmuid O’Connor back an then they are a different proposition”.
So, can Donegal beat Mayo in Castlebar?
“Absolutely,'' declared Gallagher
“The one thing that Donegal have between Michael (Murphy) and Patrick (McBrearty) is that they are not going to miss frees and Jamie Brennan, Eoghan Ban has ferocious pace, Jason McGee, Hughie McFadden has manned up massively and I just think they have a lot of players coming at the right age now at 23, 24 or 25 and that makes a huge difference.
“They are physically powerful, well- conditioned, have good habits and they have a lot of quality as well.”