By Frank Craig
Oisin Gallen admits that it’ll be a frustrating experience for him as he watches Donegal run out in Ballybofey on Saturday night.
The 19-year-old was one of the real finds for Declan Bonner in 2019. The MacCumhaills man would have loved to be involved – on his own patch – as Donegal get their NFL Division 1 return under way against Mayo.
But the flame-haired attacker underwent surgery on a troublesome shoulder complaint back in early December and is currently rehabing it back to health.
He says the weekend’s huge opener against last year’s Super 8s foes, on home soil, will be a hard sit for a player who, by his own admission, isn’t a great spectator.
“It’s frustrating,” he told the Donegal News. “Definitely. I would have been targeting to get a good bulk of game time between the McKenna Cup and the League.
“It’s all experience and being back in Division 1, there are some massive games coming up there. Looking through the fixtures, we’re away to the likes of Kerry and Dublin at Croke Park.
“Even though it’s the League, they are still massive days out. But injuries happen. You just have to take it on the chin and get through it, get back as quickly as possible. But there is no doubt that it’s disappointing not to be involved at this moment in time.”
There’s no denying that there’s been a good edge to the rivalry between the weekend’s combatants in recent times. But Gallen says summer’s Championship exit won’t have any real influence on Saturday’s proceedings.
Both outfits, he insists, will only be concerned with getting off the mark in positive fashion.
“Saturday night under lights against Mayo in MacCumhaill Park, it’s a great opener to be looking forward to. The League, especially Division 1 now, has got so high profile.
“It would be great to get off the mark early with a win. Mayo are one of those sides we know well. They accounted for us in the Super 8s last season. People will maybe look at that but it’s a new season and Castlebar will have little effect on the weekend.
“It’s a new slate and the aim for the boys will be to go out, impress and get the points. Division 1, that’s where the top sides all play. There is a great tempo and edge to League football now at that level and supporters have bought into it because of that. It matters. It’s exciting and all those top teams – the rivalries there build towards championship.”
Gallen had an excellent debut campaign for Donegal in 2019. When he does return to action he knows there’ll be added expectation and no doubt some extra ‘attention’ because of those previous feats.
“Last year, for me to even make the squad, was a really big thing personally. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – play for Donegal. To even get near it at the time it was special.
“It kicked on a little and we’d the League final at Croke Park and then, obviously, winning Ulster in my first year was fantastic. I really felt, with the standard of games and training, I was progressing on a little every week.
“I was loving it. To be fair to Declan, he had no problem throwing me in. He trusted in me. That’s such an important thing for any player.
“I didn’t really feel there was that much pressure on me. I was able to go out and just enjoy my game time when ever it came. Again, that was down to the management’s approach. The aim now – when I do get back into it – is to kick on and improve on that.
“There is some serious competition there. But it’s a great learning experience. Watching those lads and picking up bits and pieces, it will only make you a better player.
“Even the defenders we have in the group, they are all pushing hard for their place so it means you have to fight tooth and nail for every single ball at training. It’s a really competitive group but that’s exactly what you want.
“Even now, having to stand back and watch some of it, you are seeing that edge. Every night really is a learning night for me still. The standards are there to be upped and that’s what everyone is chasing.”
As well as Gallen, there are other high profile players like Paddy McGrath (knee), Eoghan Ban Gallagher (ankle), Jason McGee (hip) and Kieran Gillespie (knee) all working their way back to fitness after going under the knife in recent months.
Gallen says they are all pushing each other on behind the scenes in their respective efforts to get back to full health. That camaraderie has no doubt made those individual fitness battles a little less lonelier.
“I’m working away as hard as I can,” he said. “We’re all pushing each other on. The boys are seriously competitive, even in that setting. The example being set there is the harder you work the quicker you’ll be back. That’s the incentive.”
Back in October, Gallen attended an AFL draft combine in Melbourne, Australia. Championship foes Tyrone look like they could well be without All-Star forward Cathal McShane with speculation linking him with a switch to the Adelaide Crows refusing to go away.
But Tir Chonaill supporters don’t look like they need to fret about the possibility of losing starlet Gallen to Aussie Rules football.
“It was an experience,” he said on the trip Down Under. “To get away for two weeks to Australia to try out in a professional sport was something I couldn’t turn down. It was curiosity more than anything.
“You want to see what the level there is like and you want to see is there anything you can pick up or learn. Some people are for it, some are against it.
“Sometimes you have to take yourself into the equation and for me, I looked at it as the chance to sample something, a new experience.
“I was up against the top young athletes in Australia and there hopefully are things there, standards I can take back home and apply to Gaelic football.
“It was the off season as well. It was nice to get away and have a look at that side of things.”