GETTING the chance to watch two Donegal teams winning matches at Croke Park on the same afternoon is a rare privilege.
Saturday last was one such occasion and it was one to be savoured as Tir Chonaill’s Minor and Senior teams put Cork to the sword.
Next up for Shaun Paul Barrett’s young charges is a semi final meeting with Galway in three weeks time while Rory Gallagher’s men face reigning champions Dublin in a last-eight tie in Croke Park on Saturday next (throw-in 6pm).
For a sixth successive year, Donegal are playing Championship football in August and the mood in the camp in buoyant.
“Playing Dublin in Croke Park next week in front of 80,000 people. Where would you rather be? It will be a huge challenge but with Tyrone playing Mayo on the same day, supporters will get the chance to see four of the top teams in action. It will be a great occasion,” Donegal manager Rory Gallagher said.
Speaking after Donegal’s three-point win (0-021 to 1-15) over Cork, the Donegal boss said they were facing into an important week.
“It’s a seven-day turnaround that we had planned for. We’re fortunate that Monday is a Bank Holiday and the boys are off work. We’ll leave no stone uncovered getting ready for it,” he said.
“This group of players have played the Dubs twice before at the semi final stages of the Championship. This is one step before that but it’s something we’re really looking forward to,” he added.
Donegal have had five games in this year’s Championship to date, winning four, and Gallagher believes that they’re battle hardened.
“I feel we’ve come down a hard road, playing Fermanagh, Monaghan (twice), Tyrone and now Cork. We’re battle hardened but everyone has come through it unscathed. We’ve no major injuries and we’re in a better position than we were last year so we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
While there were 37 scores in Saturday’s game, next weekend’s game against Dublin is unlikely to yield half as many scores.
“I don’t know about that. If there’s forty odd scores and we come out on the right side of the result I’ll be happy. Sometimes, teams go out with the best intentions but things just open up and it becomes a bit of a free for all – like the Cork game. It’s probably not the way we like it – some neutrals like it – but we prefer a different type of game,” he said.
Looking back on the Cork game, Gallagher felt his players were very flat especially in the first half.
“Defensively, we were the opposite of what we waned to be which was tight and compact and hard to break down but sometimes you have to give the opposition great credit. They executed their game plan really well,” he added.
Was that lethargy a hang-over from the Ulster final defeat?
“When you lose a final it feels like end of world. In most other sports you go through a league programme but we go through a knock out competition and we’re grateful of the back door system. It provided us with the opportunity to respond.
“It was difficult for a day or two but the boys stuck together. They enjoyed themselves on the Sunday night and they stayed with each other and hung tight and we got back training on the Tuesday night. We weren’t in the best of form but you’ve got two options – hide or face up to it. We have a lot of characters in or dressing room and in group and they only know one way to come out and that’s fighting and I’m delighted with that,” he said.
Donegal defender Caolan Ward was pleased to claim the bragging rights on Sunday as his team saw off Monaghan...