The powers that be at third-level institutions rarely take the Championship into consideration when planning out their academic year.
And as a result, talented young players throughout the country are currently preparing for summer football, while also trying to find time to study for their end of year exams.
Donegal defender Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher is one of those young starlets that currently has to juggle his life to include time for study.
Gallagher – a second year Accountancy student at IT Sligo – has a busy two weeks ahead of him, as he prepares for tests in the classroom, and a test against Antrim in MacCumhaill Park.
“I have exams next week and the week after that. I have five of them to do, but I had a study week this week, so the work is done. The good weather didn’t stop me from studying,” he laughed.
Gallagher will be back in the exam hall at 9 am on Monday week – the morning after the Antrim match – so there won’t be time for celebrating if Donegal prevail, as he’ll have his head in the books.
“There will be cramming, that’s important too, but I’m actually looking forward to the exams.
“(After that) I’m just looking forward to playing for Donegal, and getting a few games for my club. I’d like to get a summer job too, and get a bit of experience before I head into my final year.”
Football will be number one priority on Sunday, and Gallagher is likely to make his first championship start, following a couple of substitute appearances in 2016.
He was included in the starting fifteen for Donegal’s first league outing with Kerry back in February, and was an ever-present after that.
He admitted to being a tad disappointed not to reach the Division 1 League final, but it was still a solid campaign.
“We took the learnings from every game. You look at the Kerry game, the very first day, we were a little to open, our tackling wasn’t great.
“We took the learnings from that game and we seemed to improve every day we played.”
The word ‘legacy’ is often branded about in sporting teams, as teams try to leave their stamp on their chosen discipline, and encourage others to follow suit.
Gallagher is a prime example of the successful legacy left by Donegal’s All-Ireland success in 2012.
The Killybegs clubman was starting to get serious about his football at that time, and had been making progress with the Donegal development squads.
He would go on to win the Buncrana Cup that summer, and watching the Donegal seniors dominate at national level inspired him to keep working hard.
“Whenever I was 16 in 2012, Donegal got to the All-Ireland final that year.
“I was in Croke Park for every game and saw the buzz that was in the county when Donegal were doing well.
“It drove me on to do well and be the next Karl Lacey or whoever.”
Under McGuinness, Donegal developed a defensive system, with athletic, ball-playing defenders bombing out of defence on the counter-attack.
There have been a few tweaks during Rory Gallagher’s tenure in charge, but by and large, the philosophy remains the same.
Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher looks to be the prototype footballer for that type of game. He’s a strong, forceful runner, who can cover the ground quickly, while he is also a disciplined tackler. However, he says that hasn’t always been the case.
“I have adapted myself to play the style of football. Donegal have been playing that style of play for a few years and it is a case that I changed my game to suit the style the manager wants us to play.”
Gallagher can play in virtually every position on the field. During his Buncrana Cup days, he was centre half-forward, while he regularly lines out for his club at midfield.
He has starred for the Donegal under 21 team in the half-back line, while at senior level, he has lined out at corner-back on a couple of occasions during the spring.
“I’m happy to play anywhere at all as long as I’m getting game time and feel like you’re contributing to the team.
“I would have played on every line of the pitch, but I think my full-forward days are long over.”
After a disappointing defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland Under 21 semi-final, Gallagher has thrown himself into championship training, to try and get ready for the opener with Antrim.
He says their training hasn’t changed much since the league, and he doesn’t feel it has got any tougher over the last couple of weeks.
“I wouldn’t say training has got any harder. None of us were guaranteed starters at the beginning of the year and training it has been fairly similar all year.
“But everybody knows that championship is what it is all about at the end of the year.
“Nobody is going to look back and say they had a good league campaign.”
The national media has been awash with predictions and comments over the last week, with the majority of pundits putting Donegal in with a serious chance of provincial glory along with Tyrone and Monaghan.
However, Gallagher isn’t concerned about that talk, and he says his side are not contemplating semi-finals or finals, as they still have to get past the first round.
“Nobody in our camp is looking beyond Antrim.”
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