GAA: Ulster SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER FINAL
By Harry Walsh
DONEGAL manager Rory Gallagher has no fresh injury worries for the Ulster Championship clash with Armagh at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
Forward Darach O’Connor continues his recovery from a knee injury and is not quite ready but, apart from that, he’s reporting a clean bill of health ahead of the eagerly anticipated quarter final.
“Our injury status is good. The medical team has done a great job so all players are fit and healthy.
“Darach won’t be available for selection this weekend, but it won’t be too long before he’s back ready to go again. Other than that, bar any possible late twinges this week, it’s a clean bill of health,” Gallagher said.
The Donegal squad returned from a weekend training camp last evening and their total focus now is on the Armagh clash.
“It’s a huge, exciting challenge for us. This team haven’t had to play too many games away from home in the Championship since 2011 and the Athletic Grounds in Armagh presents us with a huge test.
“They’re on an upward curve. Our game with them was very tight last year and we’re all expecting another very intense Ulster derby.”
In recent times Donegal has held the upper hand on the Orchard county but that hasn’t always been the case.
“From 1999 right through to the last two or three years – apart from a fortuitous win in 2007 thanks to a late Kevin Cassidy goal – they’ve had the upper hand on Donegal,” he admitted.
During that period of dominance, the Armagh players were also that bit bigger and stronger than their counterparts but that too has changed.
“They had a lot of big, strong men but we’ve a lot of big men now too. Okay, we still have a few smaller lads but they’ve all done a lot of strength and conditioning work. We’re looking forward to playing in the first round proper of the Ulster Championship,” he said.
As to possible semi-final opponents should Donegal get there, Gallagher pulled down the shutters on even speculating.
“We’re just taking one game at a time. We’re not looking beyond the Armagh challenge and we’ll know better where we’re at come 3.45pm on Sunday,” he added.
What about all the recent talk about the disparity in the current provincial championship set-up. Would he prefer to manage a team in Leinster, Connacht or Munster?
“There’s a lot made of it from people on the outside who suggest that teams from other provinces might have an easier run into August, but they don’t have the excitement that is the Ulster Championship. I’ve never heard the players complain about it. We just get on with it and aim to be the best we can on any given date,” he said.
Step two on the road to the Ulster final takes place on Sunday afternoon, throw-in 2pm.
The winners will play Derry, who defeated Down 0-12 to 0-11 at Celtic Park yesterday afternoon, in the semi-final in Clones.