Ulster final: Gallagher relishes ‘business end’ of season

Rory Gallagher facing the local, and national media, at the press night in Jacksons Hotel.

Rory Gallagher facing the local, and national media, at the press night in Jacksons Hotel.


THE economy of the Donegal forward line since spring became summer has given us some startling statistics.
Donegal have scored 2-22 over the course of the wins over Tyrone and Down.


It has been the precision that has stood out most, though.

Just twelve other attempts have been struck at the target, only six of them resulting in wides.

Against Down, it was the long-range efforts of Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy that held the keys to the final.

One man who can really appreciate the contributions is the Donegal assistant manager Rory Gallagher.

“We’re blessed to have players of that ability,” he says.

“They have a lot of natural talent, but they practice a lot. They’d be the first two out and last two in. It’s good to see that pay off.

“They’re two prolific scorers at club level.


“Last year people probably focussed on our lack of scores from inside.

“We encourage all players to get up the field, but the two boys are extremely accurate. If they can get more shots away, the likelihood is that we will get more scores.”

In his pomp, Gallagher could rattle the most formidable of cages.

Monaghan might be a new opponent for Gallagher the coach, but the Belleek native has plenty of memories of the Farney county from his playing days.

This is a player, remember, who scored 3-9, an Ulster record, against Monaghan in a Championship match in 2002.

In 2000, ’01 and ’02, Gallagher was the top scorer in the Ulster Championship.

He’s 34 now, turning 35 at the end of August. He still retains the look of a man who could do a job in an inside forward line, but it’s on the sideline now where he’s seen tearing teams apart.

Sunday sees him walk the chalk in opposition to Malachy O’Rourke. It was O’Rourke who briefly took Gallagher out of his Erne exile for 2010. In the 2010 Championship, Gallagher kicked 1-2 for Fermanagh in a semi-final defeat to Monaghan. His final appearance for Fermanagh was as a substitute in their subsequent qualifier defeat.

A few months later, he was appointed as McGuinness’ number two. The journey since has been a remarkable one.

“It’s different in that we’re going in as a form team and as the number 1 team,” says Gallagher ahead of Sunday’s final.

“Other than that, there is nothing different.

“The training is normal, we’re focussing on ourselves while keeping an eye on the opposition.

“It’s different in a sense that it isn’t brand new, different in that we’re the All-Ireland champions and the favourites.

“It’s a nice place to be.”

While the other provincial races have become largely predictable affairs, the same cannot be said for the landmine-laden Ulster race.

Donegal have, so far, had to negotiate a way around Tyrone and Down, with improving Monaghan next up in the final.

Gallagher says: “We’ve played two Division 1 teams and are still standing.

“I don’t know if anyone else has played two Division 1 teams, but I doubt it. That said, what’s happening in other provinces isn’t really a concern of ours right now.

“We’re just delighted to have a chance to play in another Ulster final.

“With all due respect, when you’re playing Tyrone in comparison to a team that is in Division 4, it’s totally different.

“We have had to be at the top of our game and had to do absolutely everything since May. If you were playing a so-called ‘lower’ team you could evaluate and prepare differently.

“It’s difficult being at yourself in mid-May and keeping it going. We’ve been used to it now and we have never held anything.”

Donegal have not been near full-tilt yet this summer, which has perhaps been the big plus for them.

Gallagher says: “We’re delighted the way it has gone.

“We have won two very tough games without some of our main men. Obviously we’d like to have a full hand, but you can’t dwell on an injured player; you have to move on and get someone in who will do a job. We’ve done that up to now.

“It’s a good place to be.”

Monaghan are in their third Ulster final in recent times, having been beaten by Tyrone in the finals of 2007 and 2010.
Gallagher sees them as a real threat to the throne.

He says: “Monaghan have been one of the top teams, genuinely, since the Banty had them.

“They have a lot of physicality, they’ve won an awful lot of tight matches and they probably feel they deserve an Ulster medal after all their effort.

“The experience, natural power and the will to win are their biggest strengths.”

It is in these weeks from here on where the stakes are raised. Donegal are hoping to gather a head of steam now and will aim to unload some of their big guns as the wheat is separated from the chaff.

Gallagher says: “Whether it’s front door or back door, this is the business end of the year.”


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