By Frank Craig
Eoghan Ban Gallagher says Donegal aren’t daunted by the task ahead of them this evening in Kingspan Breffni Park.
Tyrone – Tir Chonaill’s ultimate foe – stands between Declan Bonner’s men and a place in the Ulster SFC final.
But to label this contest as just a Championship game of football serves as a serious injustice to what remains an intensely fuelled rivalry.
As the weekend draws closer, there is a palpable nervousness and excitement in the air on both sides of the divide.
Killybegs man Gallagher is one of the side’s cooler customers. In a similar vein to say a Frank McGlynn or a Paddy McGrath, he gives absolutely nothing away in the run in.
Sports psychology says the best players or athletes are usually the ones that subtract emotion from the equation.
That’s what separates those inside the wire from those outside of it. Players surely must have to guard against so many abstract trains of thought in the build up to a game of this magnitude and all the little sub plots we attempt to splice in between.
For Bonner and his players, besides clinical and cold tactical analysis of the opposition everything else, right up until Saturday at least, is futile or useless. Thinking about what might or might not happen has the ability to hinder as much as help.
Most of the work is undoubtedly done. Donegal, whether they care to admit it or not have, without a single shred of doubt, been looking at Tyrone for much longer than the last two weeks.
Pressed on how he winds up or, indeed, down just three sleeps out from this huge Ulster Championship semi-final duel, Gallagher says: “Everyone is different. I’m looking forward to it. It’s like playing Dublin at Croke Park. If you don’t want to play Tyrone in the Ulster Championship you shouldn’t be playing Gaelic football.
“The excitement in the build up should only spur the thing on. Players are focused but I understand why supporters can’t wait.
“Everyone in our squad – and I’m sure it’s the exact same for Tyrone – will be going into the game thinking they are good enough to win it.
“All the rest of that stuff doesn’t really count for anything. We’ll give it everything and after a 70 minute performance you hope it’s good enough to see you through.
“People will always look for things to talk about. Before and after. It’s a big game. It’s a cliché but we can’t worry about that. We’ve to take it one game at a time.
“Regardless of how things go at the weekend I will still have massive belief about the potential of this squad. Tyrone certainly will (feel that way). Look at them last year. They were written off and ended up in an All-Ireland final.”
Gallagher is just 23-years-old. The fact that Bonner decides to entrust him with press duties on the eve of such an important game specks volumes.
He’s momentarily put on the spot with a left of field question regarding Donegal’s and indeed Tyrone’s All-Ireland credentials.
Apparently former GAA president Peter Quinn fancies the winners of Saturday’s clash to go on and stake a genuine claim for Sam. But Ban isn’t flustered.
He simply points out such talk is of no benefit to neither he nor his team mates at this most early of junctures in summer.
“That’s his opinion,” said Gallagher. “It doesn’t really matter to us. We believe we can win on Saturday. That’s our focus, our only focus. Tyrone will be in the exact same place.”
Donegal’s final quarter capitulation last summer – a wobble that cost them a place in the All-Ireland semi-final – is still a raw memory.
“We were well in that game with 10 or 15 minutes to go. Ultimately, we fell apart. There is no point saying otherwise. Tyrone pulled away and ended up beating us well. We just didn’t perform for the 70 minutes.
“At the top level in football now you have to see the entire game out. They deserved their win.”
The Tir Chonaill faithful will be hoping that the return of Patrick McBrearty, coupled with the bulking of options on the bench, can bridge that shortfall from 2018.
Gallagher is in no doubt that a year on, Donegal have improved. But so too he warns have Mickey Harte’s side.
He explained: “Patrick was playing unbelievable football and probably was the in-form forward in Ireland at the time. He was unmarkable.
“Personally, I did feel for him. I’ve no doubt he would have carried that into the rest of last summer. He was really enjoying his football.
“It was a huge loss. But we felt we had the squad options there. We tailed off in the last 15 minutes in that Super 8 game (against Tyrone) and it cost us a place in the All-Ireland semi-final. That’s the reality for us.
“That’s why Declan tried out so many players in the league. A few more have been added since. Eoghan McGettigan has come in and I’ve been very impressed. Listen, he’s not shying away from the challenge. Aaron Doherty is another one.
“He’s a very talented lad. He was focusing on soccer at the start of the year but we’re delighted that he’s decided to come in. The more quality we add to the panel the better we’ll become. Just look at Dublin, that’s what they’ve been doing for the last number of years.
“When you have those in-house matches and everyone is pushing each other, it can only mean good things for the long term.”