Donegal getting the best out of injury-free Oisin Gallen

The Ballybofey sharp-shooter has been the county’s best forward over the last 12 months

Oisin Gallen burst on to the scene in the Division Two final in 2019 but completed 70 minutes for Donegal just once in the next four years. He has gotten the better of his injury troubles now and is leading the line in the number 14 jersey synonymous with Michael Murphy. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Oisin Gallen is ready for the challenge presented by the Derry defence this Saturday Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Anyone who was ever in Seán Mac Cumhaill Park in Ballybofey on a regular basis over the past decade, would have seen a skinny, fair-to-reddish haired young lad kicking points for fun.

Off the right or the left, there was a kind of joy in the way he kicked them. Like he was playing in his own private All-Ireland final.

Oisin “Farrah” Gallen first emerged as a special talent for Donegal in a Croke Park draw with Kerry in 2019. He hit some superb points that evening signalling the arrival of a truly special talent.

However, he has been dogged by injuries over the past three years and has only been relatively free from them for the past 12 months.

Gallen had a great year in an annus horriblis for his county in 2023 and he is the go-to man when Donegal take on Derry today.

He is no longer the skinny kid but the deadly accuracy with both feet still remains and he is part of a deadly strike-force with team captain Patrick McBrearty, a man he has been following since the latter burst on the scene as a precocious 17-year-old.

“I have been watching how he plays and what he likes to do, and you are always just trying to link up with him,’’ says Gallen.

“Over the past few years, we have not had the chance to play together much due to him and me being injured so it is nice to be able to build that relationship this year.

“We have been playing a lot inside and he is a great footballer which makes it easy.

“And we are all hoping he will be fit, and he has been driving us on and has been a great captain that has been leading by example and from the front.”

Being injury-free for a spell has meant Gallen has been able to find the consistency required at the top level.

“It is more consistency and getting more regular football with bumps and bruises and knocks but nothing too serious.

“That is a good sign rather than the soft tissue injuries and the few surgeries that I have had over the past few years that made me miss a lot of football.”

Philosophical Gallen is determined to learn from adversity and learn to look after his body better and to take care of himself on and off the pitch.

When reminded that he never left the pitch for years, Gallen said he was not on it as much as that was part of the learning to “take care of my body.”

“I was a student, and it was easy to go down on the day off but I have a much busier schedule now and you need that few extra days to recover.

“But I still go down and do a bit an odd time.”

When asked why he is such a two-footed player, he references Luke Gavigan (brother of Martin ‘Rambo” Gavigan) as a major influence.

“I still do kick with both feet, and it is pure practice and Luke Gavigan, my coach always encouraged us to kick with both feet as he played inside himself.

“We had a strong team and were winning games, and he would have encouraged us to use our left foot and our left hand.

“Those are the simple things that you bring into games and are things you get better at through practice.”

Gallen missed the Ulster final defeat to Derry in 2022 but played against them in the Dr McKenna Cup final this year and was well impressed, even though neither side was at full strength.

“They have been on a journey from Division Four to Division One, picking up back-to-back titles and they are going for three Ulster titles in a row so they really know how to win big matches and now they have just beaten Dublin, which was a real statement.

“You can tell by the way they play that they are very fit, very comfortable on the ball, very strong, physical and they have good structure in their play and make good decisions.They are definitely very strong and in form.

“Their defenders are scoring heavily, and they have great trust in each other on the ball and that is the challenge we are going to be up against.

“It will take 20 men at their utmost to compete with this Derry side.”

Gallen does not buy the underdog tag but insists that Donegal know that Derry are the form team.

So how big a confidence-booster is it that Donegal defeated Armagh in the Division Two League final with a team that had six players who had never featured in Croke Park before?

“On paper we looked a bit weaker missing the likes of Patrick, Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Brendan McCole etc..but we have great trust in the squad.

“We have been training together for months and we know what each other can do and we trust each other and some of those lads got a chance through luck that other lads were injured, and they certainly took their chance, which makes us stronger.

“Aaron Doherty is very gifted, and I played underage with him, and he is flying at the moment.

“We have great pace and Ciaran Moore has so much versatility and we see it in training every night and we see it also in Caolan McColgan who has just come back from injury.”

When asked what Jim McGuinness has brought to the squad ahead of their biggest test this year, he said: “It has been a great motivation for us to get the best out of ourselves and do what we can and Jim helps us to drive ourselves and gives us confidence to get better and it will never be easy to pick up titles.

“We are trying to do everything we can to be competitive against great teams like Derry.”