Donegal centurion Gallagher excited by Royal appointment
LONG before the 100th Donegal appearance, before last April's League final at Croke Park and before the cruciate that sidelined her for almost a year, Emer Gallagher had Meath on her mind.
She was only starting her inter-county journey back in 2009 when a fancied Donegal side including current senior captain Niamh McLaughlin and Allstar forward Geraldine McLaughlin ran into the Royals in an All-Ireland U16 final in Longford.
Donegal led by seven points inside the opening 10 minutes but went on to lose a seven-goal thriller by two. Now 13 years on, many of the same players - including current Meath Allstar Maire O'Shaughnessy - will meet in this afternoon's All-Ireland senior semi-final at Croke Park and Gallagher doesn't need much reminding about that first encounter.
"You know what, it's one that we're almost still bitter about," said Gallagher, one of the game's most efficient man markers.
"Funnily enough, I was playing as a corner-forward back then. I don't know what they thought of me at that stage. I remember we didn't get a penalty at the end of that game that we thought we should have gotten. It's definitely one that we were hurt by. We always felt that we left it behind us that day. Let's just hope we don't leave it behind us this time."
Meath will be favourites on this occasion, partly because of their status as All-Ireland title holders and partly because they beat Donegal in that Division One league final back in April, again by two points.
Gallagher could be Donegal's not-so-secret weapon. Recovered from the ACL injury suffered in the closing minutes of last year's Championship group game against Kerry and clearly rejuvenated, she returned to make a dramatic 100th Donegal appearance in last weekend's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat of Dublin.
Her marking job on Hannah Tyrrell was central to the success and it will be no great surprise if Meath's Emma Duggan has Gallagher for company this afternoon.
All of which makes a nice change from months of frustrating rehab work for the Termon stalwart.
"It was a really under the radar sort of process," said Gallagher of her return to first team action.
"That's really the way I wanted it to be, I definitely didn't want there to be a big fuss about me being available, because I felt I didn't want that to be any sort of disrespect to the girls that were already playing so well in that position.
"In the lead up to the game itself, we were trying out different things, and when you're playing the likes of Dublin, I always kind of felt like my height and my strength would be an advantage there, especially when the likes of Hannah Tyrrell had to be marked.
"I knew that maybe I was in contention. Then obviously I was delighted when Maxi (Curran) did have the chat with me about doing the man-marking job on Hannah Tyrrell and it gave me a great focus then. I love man-marking jobs, I love having that focus."
After the win over Dublin, presentations were made to Gallagher, Yvonne Bonner and Nicole McLaughlin to mark their service to Donegal. Bonner has made over 140 appearances for her county, McLaughlin 103 and Gallagher 100.
"I think it's seven in total," said Gallagher of the amount of current Donegal players in the 100-plus club. "As far as I know it's Yvonne, Geraldine, Karen (Guthrie), Niamh Hegarty, myself, Nicole and Katie Herron.
"There's just a great love for football here in Donegal. We can all definitely say that we have a great sense of pride in our jersey. That's maybe why there has been such hurt and disappointment in the games we've left behind."
Manager Curran referenced that before the league final, that too often Donegal have settled for 'glorious failure'. Not any more by the looks of things. So what changed?
"I think just more than anything else it's definitely belief," said Gallagher. "We came into games against the likes of Dublin in the past and maybe felt the game was already lost before it was even played."
Watching Meath come from nowhere to win last year's All-Ireland had an inspirational effect too.
"Absolutely, I was in Croke Park doing some commentary when Meath were playing Cork (in the semi-finals) and everyone had them written off coming into the last few minutes of the match but they were steadfast and they believed in their system and stuck to their system. For them to beat Cork and to totally be in control then against Dublin in the All-Ireland final, and to come out as All-Ireland champions, it really gave every other county that inspiration that you could do it.
"And look at it now, we're going to have All-Ireland semi-finals with four teams that haven't been in it in recent years. That's really, really exciting and has left the whole Championship in a fantastic position."
* Emer Gallagher was speaking in support of Lidl Ireland's 'County Pride' campaign which is running throughout the country until the conclusion of the All-Ireland Championships.