NAOMH Conaill’s teak-tough full-back AJ Gallagher won’t forget the last two weeks in a hurry.
The past fortnight will be etched in the memories of Naomh Conaill players and their supporters for years to come as they edged out Gaoth Dobhair in an epic struggle to clinch the Dr Maguire Cup for only the fourth time in their history.
That win came last Wednesday and they didn’t have too long to bask in the glory of their success before it was time for the Ulster Championship quarter-final with Castlerahan.
That was a big ask but Naomh Conaill defied their heavy schedule and got the win they required to set up an Ulster Club Championship semi-final with Clontibret from Monaghan on November 16.
“It could have been a very different week, but it turned out to be a good one in the end up,” said the affable Gallagher, who is a favourite among his group of loyal supporters.
“It was great to get the win last Wednesday and then we just scraped over the line on Sunday.
“It was a tough two weeks and we’ll be glad to get a break.”
Given the intense nature of their trilogy with Gaoth Dobhair, the Naomh Conaill men needed to be able to unwind and let their hair down after they finally saw off the Magheragallon men.
After all, big championship wins don’t come around like that too often, and the Glenties team were well aware of that after they lost the last two county finals.
The 29-year-old said: “We enjoyed ourselves and I think it was late Thursday night/early Friday morning before the party stopped.
“Our attention started to turn to Castlerahan again and the management team started to prepare for them.
“We went back down to the field on Friday evening and got a light run around, and sweated some of the damage out of us.”
Naomh Conaill doctor Charlie McManus wrote to the Ulster Council looking to have their match with Castlerahan pushed back a week on the grounds of player welfare, and considering there is a fortnight between games from here on in, it wasn’t an unreasonable request.
However unsurprisingly, the Ulster Council didn’t budge, and Naomh Conaill had to board the bus for Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday.
With momentum behind them, and adrenaline still in the system from Wednesday night, Naomh Conaill powered into the game.
They were able to establish a cushion which was important as their busy few weeks did catch up with them late on.
Gallagher said: “The first 15 or 20 minutes was almost like how it finished off on Wednesday night. We had the momentum and we carried that hunger and intensity into the Castlerahan match.
“Thankfully we were able to build up a bit of a lead heading into the last 15 minutes because we really started to tire then.
“We dropped off a bit towards the end of the first half as well, and we said at half-time that we needed a good start to the second half to
try and build up a lead and I think we pushed it out to seven at one stage.
“That was important because Castlerahan had a three week break and were a lot fresher than us, and they were always going to come back.”
Gallagher feels that his side’s strength-in-depth has really come to the fore over the last fortnight.
While some managers have been hesitant to introduce subs during the club championship, Martin Regan was not one of those and he used all six of his replacements again last weekend in Cavan.
“We have a super panel, and the boys were saying over the course of the Gaoth Dobhair games we used something like 23 or 24 players.
“We needed everyone and it was the same against Castlerahan. Boys were always going to tire so it was good to have men to come in and
freshen it up.
“Stephen ‘Pirate’ (Molloy) came on, Hughie (Gallagher) came on, the ‘Brick’ (Dermot Molloy) and John O’Malley, as well and they were able to drive us up the field when we needed it.
Gallagher has been impressing at full-back for the Glenties club, and he enjoyed three lively tussles with Kevin Cassidy.
He didn’t have things so tough against Castlerahan, but he will be under the spotlight again in two weeks time in Omagh, as he might be asked to mark Vinny Corey, or one of the best forwards in the game in Conor McManus.
“Ah I’ll just take it as it comes.
“I’m sure whoever is in front of me will give a bit of support and I’ll just go out and try and do my best.
“It would be super for the club if we could get through to the final and it would shorten the winter for us.
“We’ll rest up now and get our recovery in and get the focus back forthe Clontibret match. Now that we’re here we are going to enjoy it.”
It was a good weekend for Donegal club football as Naomh Conaill, St Naul’s and Buncrana all won.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when clubs from the county were really struggling to win in the province.
However, that’s not the case any more and Naomh Conaill are proud to carry the county’s flag.
“Without a shadow of a doubt. We have good teams in Donegal.
“We played St Naul’s earlier in the year and they beat us in the Gaeltacht. They have a young team and it’s good to see them doing well.
“Buncrana won on penalties and they are through to the Ulster Final.
“Gaoth Dobhair raised the bar last season, and it’s up to us to try and reach that level as well now. We will do our very best to do that.”