BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL will look to break with tradition on Sunday when they take on All-Ireland champions Kerry (Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 2pm).
For starters, they’re aiming to end what has become a dreadful away record in Division 1 that has now seen them win just two of their last 15 away games in the top flight.
Donegal won promotion back to Division 1 in 2006 and Brian McIver’s League-winning campaign of 2007 included away wins in Cork and Tyrone, as well as a madcap 4-6 to 2-12 draw in Limerick on April Fool’s Day.
Since then, there have been just two wins. There was Eamon McGee’s stunning last-gasp goal to sink Mayo in Castlebar in 2008, but the only other away success since was when John Joe Doherty’s Donegal defeated Westmeath in Mullingar in 2009.
The 0-15 to 1-7 win relegated Westmeath and it was a day when Christy Toye and Ryan Bradley hit three points each for a Donegal side that included Johnny Gallagher, Paddy McDaid, Charlie Byrne, Brendan Boyle and Michael Maguire.
A week later, and an away defeat to Derry, saw Donegal relegated themselves.
It’s fair to say that the road has not been kind to Donegal with Rory Gallagher’s side coming out on the wrong end of a 2-10 to 0-11 scoreline against Dublin last month.
This week, Donegal also face the might of Kerry – in the Kingdom.
“Traditionally, people see it as Kerry win in Kerry but, look a lot of tradition has changed and we are only interested in creating our own tradition,” Gallagher says, clearly relishing the chance to pit his own wits against those of Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
A repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final brings with it its own baggage, of course and there are plenty of battles that will be re-enacted, not least the joust between Kieran Donaghy and Eamon McGee that could be worth the admission alone.
“Donaghy has a serious influence on Kerry and we’ll try as best we can to curb him,” says Gallagher, whose cards are close to his chest this week.
“Kerry have a serious ability to put up scores. They’ll be disappointed to have lost a local derby, too.
“Every team is evolving and look what Kerry have back in. Tommy Walsh has gone back into their squad again. He was shaping up to be one of the best players in Ireland before he went to Australia. He is an exciting talent and while it’ll take him time to get back to the level again, he’ll be a huge asset.
“Last week, Paul Galvin was back training again and he’s been one of the best players in the country since he first came on the scene. It says a lot about him that, at 35, he’s willing to sacrifice what he is sacrificing to give it a go again.”
Following Sunday’s 0-9 to 1-4 loss to Monaghan, Gallagher has asked his side for a big response. Having hit three points in the opening ten minutes, Donegal managed just 1-1 thereafter, their only score from play coming from Michael Murphy’s second-half goal.
It was an afternoon where Donegal supporters let their frustrations be known with Donegal’s insistance in playing the ball back-and-forth and not managing to punch holes in Monaghan’s rearguard.
“I would be disappointed with the performance,” the Donegal manager admitted.
“I think that is clear. These games take on a life of their own, though. The problem was that we didn’t adapt to it the way we should have. We didn’t adapt, for instance, to being given the kick-outs. We would expect to face that again in Ulster this year. It’s unusual just to be given the kickouts, especially when a team is playing against the breeze.
“We didn’t take it by the scruff of the neck. The game was there for us and we had chances that we should have taken. Had we done that, we could have been ahead in the last few minutes.
“It’s up to us to learn from the mistakes and learn from where we went wrong last weekend. We had only 17 shots which is well below our average and our accuracy also let us down.
“We were too worried about keeping the ball and we didn’t look to penetrate. We had Michael Murphy inside, but a big part of the way the game went was that we didn’t even get to an area where we could kick it into him.
“It looked like it was going to work for us when Michael won the first ball, won a free and scored it, but then we just didn’t break the lines often enough.”
Defeat has kept Donegal peeking over their shoulders, but everything is still to play for as Gallagher and co head for the Kingdom. Kerry’s heavy defeat on Sunday against Munster foes Cork will see Fitzmaurice stoking the fire in Kerry, too, and the reaction of both teams are could make for intense clash against the backdrop of last September’s meeting when Kerry pinched Sam Maguire through the goals of Paul Geaney and Donaghy.
Gallagher said: “The reality is that there are only two teams better off than us. There’ll probably be a lot of topsy-turvy results again at the weekend so we just have to look after our own end. Dublin there are under slight pressure which no-one expected. The thing is still in our hands, which is good and a victory on Sunday would be a massive boost to us.
“When we took over, we never expected Division 1 to be a smooth ride.
“We are approaching all games with a view to winning them. it’s a long haul and a big test for us, but we’re setting out to win.”
DONEGAL ON THE ROAD IN DIVISION 1 SINCE 2007
Cork 2-07 Donegal 1-12
Tyrone 1-8 Donegal 2-11
Limerick 2-12 Donegal 4-06
Mayo 0-16 Donegal 2-11
Kildare 0-12 Donegal 0-11
Tyrone 0-11 Donegal 0-09
Kerry 2-13 Donegal 0-11
Galway 1-16 Donegal 0-12
Westmeath 1-07 Donegal 0-15
Derry 0-14 Donegal 0-10
Donegal played in Division 2
Donegal played in Division 2
Down 1-10 Donegal 1-09
Kerry 2-16 Donegal 1-08
Dublin 2-16 Donegal 0-13
Kildare 2-14 Donegal 1-13
Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12
Cork 0-12 Donegal 0-10
Mayo 1-10 Donegal 0-09
Donegal played in Division 2
Dublin 2-10 Donegal 0-11
Posted: 10:10 pm March 14, 2015