BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT WILL be ‘business as usual’ for Rory Gallagher and the 17 members of his squad who aren’t embarking on the holiday to Dubai this week.
The 2014 Donegal squad are spending the next seven days in Dubai on a team holiday that was delayed until the break in the National Football League.
2014 manager Jim McGuinness, corner-back Paddy McGrath and selector John Duffy are unable to make the trip. A large swathe of Gallagher’s squad will be unavailable to the manager for the next week, but with a National League game against Cork on March 1 to the front of his thoughts, he and his players are keen not to let their guard slip.
So, even for those players on the holiday, it will also be business as usual when it comes to the training, albeit on the rather more exotic climbs of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.
“The boys will train a number of times out there and it’s full steam ahead,” Gallagher said this week.
Declan Gallagher, a strength and conditioning coach from 2014 whose services have been retained, will oversee the work done in Dubai.
“We have 17 members of the current squad who aren’t going on the trip so we’ll be doing what we’ve been doing, although we’ll be stepping it up in the next couple of weeks.”
It had been hoped to have the holiday before Christmas or certainly prior to the commencement of the 2015 campaign. A number of players had used up their holiday time and would have been unable to take any further leave, while Paul Durcan’s wedding in late December meant that wasn’t a possibility.
Two games into the League and Donegal sit as one of six teams on two points after the win over Derry was followed by Saturday’s 2-10 to 0-11 reversal against Dublin at Croke Park.
“There have been a lot of plusses,” Gallagher pointed out.
“In the second half against Derry we played better and overall against Dublin, a team very much up for it, even though we lost, I thought we did well.
“We’re happy to be up and running with all of the players back fit again, which is great. We have integrated a lot of them back into it again.”
The likes of Hugh McFadden and Martin O’Reilly have been given every chance to prove their worth, while Ciarán McGinley, too, has had a fair slice of action this year, as have Michael Boyle and Daniel McLaughlin, not to ignore the returned Mark McHugh. One player who had been training with the squad, Malachy McDermott of Moville, has since departed to attempt to win a contract at Finn Harps.
McFadden was very unfortunate not to get more gametime, but the Killybegs man is really staking a claim for regular inclusion and is being given every chance. A number of players – namely Patrick McBrearty, Christy Toye and Neil Gallagher – have really come back with the bit between their teeth and have set the tone for the rest of the squad.
Gallagher said: “We’re quite happy with them. We’re trying to get them all up to speed with the level of county football. We’re pleased with how it’s gone and for everyone, the senior players included, we want them all to be at a certain level by the time we play Tyrone on May17th.”
Durcan suffered mild concussion and a cut just above his left eye when a stray foot caught him in the move that led to Cormac Costello’s opening goal in the fifth minute, but the performance of his replacement, Michael Boyle, was one of the night’s bright points.
Gallagher said: “We expected that from Michael. We can see in training what he is capable of. He trains so well and he always pushes himself to try and improve his game. It’s not easy to jump into that sort of a game, but he handled it well. His handling was good, he was confident and his kicking too. It didn’t come as a surprise to us, though.”
Saturday saw the first taste of 2015 game time for All-Star full-back Neil McGee and also for Colm McFadden. Both are pivotal figures in the side by now – and Gallagher had no qualms about sending them straight to battle.
He said “Neil and Colm were working away with Paul Fisher. They had been resting because of minor injuries, but we said that once they were back in training that we’d put them straight into games. It just comes naturally to players like that so we never had any concern about that.”
Karl Lacey, too, has been eased back, but there is something about the Four Masters man that lights Gallagher up when he speaks.
He said: “Karl had a lot of catching up to do after 2012. He had hip surgery and then last year he had some issues, too. He was in Limerick last year, but is back at home now and I see an exceptionally hungry player in Karl Lacey. He is strong and fresh, and he’s been outstanding.”
Michael Murphy’s presence has been felt by both Derry and Dublin and, at this stage, it certainly does look like the Glenswilly man can expect to have more action on the edge of the square this year. Black carded on Saturday night for a badly-timed tackle,
Murphy has been really targeted by the opposition this year, even more so it seems than previously.
His physique sometimes goes against him in that regard. While he isn’t the best tackler, certainly not with the poise and precision of Lacey, it has come to the stage where the treatment of the Donegal captain has to be examined more closely. Sure, Murphy can handle himself and there will be little in the way of sympathy going his way – but it is plainly not right for a player to be on the receiving end of such ‘attention’.
It could work a treat, though, with him around the square.
Upon their return from Dubai next Friday, the squad will unite at the weekend where Cork in Ballyshannon will be the primary focus. Two home wins against the Rebels and then Monaghan will be the aim for now. All the while, though, Tyrone in May looms large.
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