DONEGAL full-back Emer Gallagher is eagerly awaiting a summer in Chicago, but she wants to ensure that her team win the Division 2 title before she heads for the windy city.
Gallagher has had a busy few years as she helped her club Termon to the All-Ireland Club title in 2014, before excelling in defence as Donegal clinched the Ulster Senior Ladies title last year.
She was also captain of the Donegal under 21 team that won the All-Ireland Under 21 ‘B’ title in 2015.
It’s been a hectic time for the NUIG student, and she has decided to head to America, as have three of her county teammates, who are bound for New York.
“There’s four of us going away. Myself, Geradline (McLaughlin), Nicole (McLaughlin) and Laura Gallagher.
“All the talk is about Geraldine going – the rest of us are overshadowed!
“We’ve had a big couple of years of football and we decided last year that we would head away this summer.
“Then with the way things went last year, we started hemming and hawing about it, but we decided to go for it because we are all in our final year of college and this is the last time we can get the J1.”
The girls will miss the start of the championship and they won’t know if Donegal will still be standing when they return.
With that in mind, the League is of huge importance to the quartet, and Gallagher wants her team to overcome Cavan this Saurday in Beragh (throw-in, 2pm) in the Division 2 semi-final, and go on to seal their passage back to the top tier of the league.
“The four of us are preparing for this game like it’s the championship.
“We want to make sure that we are in Division 1 next season. It will be up to the girls then in the championship. We have a broad panel, so they should be able to cope without us.”
Donegal’s 2016 league campaign has been very similar to last year, but Gallagher is hoping for a different outcome this term.
In 2015, Davy McLaughlin’s team went through the spring unbeaten, but were then caught by Armagh in the League decider.
Gallagher and her teammates have not tasted defeat this year either, but she is wary of complacency seeping in again.
“We want to get back to the league final to make up for last season. We were probably too confident against Armagh.
“It was a very disappointing day, especially for me. I was marking Aimee Mackin, who got Player of the Match, so I wasn’t happy with my own performance.
“Everything went wrong that day: our tactics, our structure, our performance.
“It’s definitely one we want to make up for.”
Donegal lost out to Armagh twice last year and Gallagher admits that they are her side’s bogey team.
However, she is also heartened by how well the Orchard county have done in Division 1 this season, and she doesn’t think Donegal would have any problems facing the country’s elite.
“Armagh were very unfortunate not to make the Division 1 semi-finals, and we want to get up there with them.
“We were in Division 1 two or three years ago, and we need to get back there.
“We were very disappointed to lose to Armagh in the Championship last year, and I honestly believe we were the one team that could have put it up to Cork.
“But we couldn’t get past Armagh. They are our bogey team but hopefully we will put that right this year.”
Davy McLaughlin stepped down as manager at the end of last season, with Micheal Naughton taking over the reins.
Gallagher says it has been a pretty seamless transition, and she is more than content with the set-up the ladies enjoy at the moment.
“Micheal brings a lot of experience to the team. He managed the girls to the Intermediate in 2010, and he knows everyone and their game inside out.
“He has just carried on the good work that Davy has started. Obviously Sean O’Kane has stayed involved which is fantastic because he is a brilliant trainer.
“Micheal has brought us on and he treats us like professional athletes – he gets us whatever we need.”
Donegal impressed in their last league fixture against Cavan, winning on a scoreline of 2-7 to 1-2 in Tir Conaill Park.
To keep a team to only three scores is remarkable, and it was especially pleasing for Gallagher and the rest of the full-back line.
“We play typical Donegal football with a lot of players behind the ball.
“Everyone works hard, and we have a very good sweeper in Eilish Ward, who knows exactly where to be.
“I play club football with Nicole and we know each other’s game inside out.
“On the other side of me is Treasa Doherty, who should be an All Star, she’s so good.
“We have good protection from the goalkeepers we play with too – Laura (Gallagher), Ciara (Gallagher), and Aoife (McColgan).”
While Gallagher won’t line out in the summer months, Donegal will play Cavan later in the summer in the Championship.
After a disappointing display a fortnight ago, the Breffni county will be looking for an improved performance this week, and Donegal will not be taking anything for granted.
“Yeah, we are expecting a tough game.
“One thing that has been causing us problems this year is our slow starts.
“Sean (O’Kane) has been drilling it into us that we need to get off to a good start because we don’t want to fall behind early on.
“Cavan could come at us, and we have been working hard on speed work, possession games, and on tackling drills.
“We didn’t give away too many scores against Cavan the last day, but we did concede a few frees.
“We need to try and limit them to as little scoring opportunities as possible and hopefully that will be enough to get us into the final.”
Ciara Hegarty – a current All-Star – believes that Donegal are capable of building up a head of steam...