BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Rory Gallagher first dipped his toes into the Donegal set-up in 2011, there was little expectation or hope in the county but, as he prepares for his first Ulster Championship game as Donegal manager, he hardly needs reminding that the landscape has been altered significantly.
After the most successful four years Donegal has ever had, Gallagher was the man entrusted with the reigns after Jim McGuinness dismounted last October.Winners of the Anglo-Celt Cup in 2011, 2012 and 2014, as well as winning the All-Ireland in 2012, Donegal have taken Tyrone’s mantle as the province’s top dogs.
Who better, then, for Gallagher to begin his first Championship summer as Donegal manager against than Mickey Harte’s team, whom Donegal defeated in the Championships of ‘11, ‘12 and ‘13?
“Sides are now looking to take our scalp – that’s the reality,” Gallagher said ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Sean MacCumhaill Park.
“We’re very much aware of that. We’re up there to be shot at. That’s part of the challenge.”
Tyrone were going for three-in-a-row in 2011 when Donegal defeated them in a semi-final, while they eked out a win the following year at the semi-final stage too.
“We were four or five points up at one stage in the second-half of that 2011 game,” Gallagher said.
“Listen, they were the benchmark then and they’re still the team that you look out for in Ulster. This is going to be a big clash.
“That game in 2011 was a big game, there is no doubt about that. At the same time, we were lucky to get over it. Tyrone missed a number of chances. It was sheer rawness that got us over the line.
“2012, in some ways, was a better victory. We performed more like a side that knew what it was about. We were much more mature in that display. And while we only won the game by two, I think we played really well.”
Donegal have seen Martin McElhinney, Paddy McGrath and Mark McHugh all return from injury and will be very close to full-strength but Darach O’Connor – who has been troubled by a knee injury all year – remains the biggest doubt.
In the League, Donegal cantered to a 1-13 to 0-6 win over Tyrone – but Gallagher insists that victory will count for nothing unless his side get over thye line this weekend.
He said: “In the week coming up to that league game, we, the management team, discussed it and said it would be of no relevance to the championship. The league is the league. At the time it is relatively high profile but it dims in significance now coming up to the Ulster championship.
“We have to worry about ourselves. We know what Tyrone will come with – with all guns blazing. We can only work with our own individual players and work on the gameplan.”
Cavan’s Joe McQuillan will take charge of the fixture, which throws in at 4pm in what will be a sold-out MacCumhaill Park, while the Ulster Minor Championship clash of the counties precedes it at 2pm.
Posted: 5:46 pm May 13, 2015
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