BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT WAS 2009 when John Joe Doherty spoke about the ‘last sting of a dying wasp’.
Donegal meekly bowed out of the Ulster Championship at the hands of lowly Antrim that June.
Liam Bradley’s team scored a 1-10 to 0-12 win on a soaking Ballybofey Sunday and Doherty’s team was torn asunder.
A media ban that applied only to the local correspondents was put in place and the strained relationship deepened in the weeks that followed after a series of hard-hitting articles following Doherty’s banishment of Neil Gallagher and Ciaran Bonner for a breach of discipline.
They were difficult times, but they found momentum again and confidence grew by the week.
Carlow and Clare were beaten, albeit unconvincingly, but they ground out an exciting extra-time win over Derry in Ballybofey with Kevin Cassidy’s goal in the extra period to thank.
In Sligo, Doherty’s Donegal showed magnificent character to overcome Galway on a night when Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy scored eleven of their points in a 0-14 to 0-13 win.
All of a sudden, Doherty found himself leading Donegal out to Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork. Almost as suddenly, their worst nightmare unfolded and a 1-27 to 2-10 defeat by the Rebels sent them back up the M1 with the tail back between the legs again.
In the wake of that loss, Doherty was asked what had happened the Donegal that had been seen in Markievicz Park a week previously. The Glencolmcille man never shirked a challenge, but he offered up the explanation that their win over Galway was ‘the last sting of a dying wasp’.
Next Saturday, Donegal face Galway again in a round four All-Ireland qualifier at Croke Park and it’s a much different landscape that Rory Gallagher heads into than that which faced Doherty six summers ago.
It’s also vastly changed to the one Jim McGuinness and Gallagher looked at in 2013 after they were well beaten in the Ulster final by Monaghan.
Last Sunday, Donegal were beaten again by Monaghan in the provincial final, but Gallagher was bullish this week as he assessed the road ahead for his men.
“We’ve played three Division 1 teams – Tyrone, Derry and Monaghan – and a Division 2 team in Armagh, but we’re not complaining about a tough route or whatever,” Gallagher said.
“I’d look at it completely the other way. We’re battle-hardened now after derby games like that. It might be tougher than counties in other provinces have had to face, but we’ve just come out narrowly on the wrong side of a tight Ulster final so we feel that we’re heading to Croke Park battle hardened.”
Donegal started like a house on fire against Monaghan and three early scores appeared to set them up for a retention of their crown.
By half-time, they were four in arrears and when Owen Lennon thumped Monaghan five in front the writing began to scrawl on the Donegal wall as the wides continued to follow – by the end, Donegal had eleven wides to their name.
“We were poor in the 20 to 25 minutes before half-time when Monaghan dominated proceedings,” Gallagher said.
“We’d be encouraged by our second-half performance. We usually pride ourselves on being clinical, but we didn’t fire at all against Monaghan like we’d normally do.
“A lot of things went against us, but the wides definitely were the big factor in the game.
“Monaghan deserve a lot of credit for their performance. We were up against a team who finished third in Division 1 and who ran Dublin very close in the semi-final.”
Galway have taken the scalps of Armagh and Derry in their last two outings. Kevin Walsh’s team can be regarded as a dangerous opponent for Gallagher’s men.
The Donegal boss said: “Galway are in that bracket of an emerging team. They’ve had a lot of underage talent coming through and are trying to harness that. They’ve beaten two Ulster teams in the last couple of weeks and we’ve had an eye on them because they were a possible opponent, win or lose the Ulster final.
“It’s great that we’re going to Croke Park again and there’ll be great excitement at getting back there.”
Donegal were in the Aura Centre for a recovery session on Monday evening and trained again collectively on Tuesday.
A wounded animal is ready to fight again and while the route to September is a little more trying now, the manager’s comments suggest that the Donegal sting still contains enough poison to have a say in the destination of Sam Maguire.