Gallagher looks for collective responsibility
IN all likelihood, Eoghan Bán Gallagher will line up alongside Conor McKenna on Sunday afternoon.
The man of the moment in Gaelic football, McKenna has taken the opening weeks by storm upon his return from Australia.
After six years with Essendon, homesickness overcame him and he opted for home.
Eoghan Bán Gallagher struggled with the same, and he was only away for three weeks.
Back in 2017, he and Jason McGee were taken out by Brisbane Lions for a trial. For the Killybegs man, it never truly seemed like a runner.
“I really enjoyed my time over there. I was never really close [to signing],” he said yesterday.
“I see Conor said one of the biggest reasons for him coming home was homesickness. Even over the two-and-a-half to three weeks that we were out there, I was calling home every day.
“I don’t think it would ever have been for me. It’s a great opportunity for a lot of fellas to get and I completely understand why they go, but I was never really close to going out.”
The decision has been Donegal’s gain. An Allstar nominee in 2018, he would almost certainly have found himself back on the shortlist last year were it not for some cruel injury luck.
He shattered his ankle days before the Super 8s tie with Kerry and was badly missed as they slumped to an exit against Mayo in Castlebar.
Gallagher recalled how he couldn’t bring himself to show his face around the club, feeling as though “I let my team-mates down” until manager John Cunningham asked him to help out.
Rehab is a long and lonely road, but every footballer feels as though they’ve been down that path this year, with county panels broken up for six months.
“It’s going back to when I was 13 or 14 and doing athletics training, and it’s a battle with yourself just,” he said.
“You have nobody there to push you on, it’s just whatever you’re going to do yourself. The amount of respect we’ve gained for every athlete who does individual things, in terms of tennis, athletics, the mental strength they have individually is phenomenal.”
Injuries haven’t been kind to Donegal in general. They lost Patrick McBrearty – a doubt for this weekend, but one that Declan Bonner is hopeful will make it – to a cruciate knee ligament injury during the Ulster final two years ago.
It derailed their bid that year, while Gallagher’s absence was critical last autumn.
At 24, Gallagher is an elder youth on the squad. Donegal has transitioned from its 2012 All-Ireland team into another group of contenders, with relative seamlessness.
Winners of the last two Ulster titles, they’re favourites to make it three-in-a-row, something only achieved once in Ulster since the early 1960s, by Armagh from 2004 to 2006.
They’ve been talked up as potential All-Ireland contenders but have yet to really make their mark on the national stage, something that Tyrone have done in the same period.
Gallagher feels the team is of an age now where the younger players have to drive them to a new level.
“I read a few books over lockdown and it’s not something that I would usually do. I had a bit of extra time so I decided to get into a few books. A lot of the best teams talk about collective responsibility.
“If you look at Liverpool, and the New Zealand and Leinster rugby teams, they all talk about collective responsibility.
“It’s everyone’s job on the team. You can’t just keep looking at Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty to continue to lead us.
“It’s up to everyone within the squad to drive it. It’s something all the best teams do and it’s up to us to strive towards and share the responsibility on the pitch instead of just having it focus on one or two players.”
The idea of picking up Conor McKenna on Sunday would put him in against a man whose directness has already marked him out.
In an era where Tyrone have tended to be methodical and patient, the Eglish man has brought a bit of bullishness to the party.
If there's one thing defenders hate, it's a man who'll put his head down and run straight at them.
“It is difficult. Whenever they get the ball, they’re mad to take you on. There’s plenty of direct players.
“We’re lucky enough in Donegal that we have a number of very direct players ourselves, with Ryan [McHugh], Jamie Brennan, Michael [Murphy], they’d be all fairly direct and we’d get good practice against them in training.
“It’s the best way to get used to defending against players that are very direct. Conor’s been excellent since he came back, he’s taken to it very quickly and I think he’s surprised a lot of people."