Gallagher settling in well to his new role

Gallagher settling in well to his new role
The new Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, was always different. His talents as a ball player were always to the fore - much more Brazil than West Germany.

The new Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, was always different. His talents as a ball player were always to the fore - much more Brazil than West Germany.

His tally of 3-9 in a championship match for Fermanagh against Monaghan in 2002 will take some beating. He was leading scorer in the Ulster championship for three successive seasons.

When he arrived in Killybegs in 2010, there was a very hopeful and speculative article on a quiet week in the Donegal Democrat that he might be persuaded to pull on the green and gold of Donegal.

Consider, he was only 32 at the time, playing his club football with St. Gall’s of Antrim (who had won the All-Ireland club earlier that year). Donegal were not box office at the time, but later that year when Jim McGuinness took over, all that changed.

It changed too for Rory Gallagher when around Christmas time at the end of 2010, he was invited to become part of the Donegal backroom team and, as they say, the rest is history.

For three years he was by the side of McGuinness until they parted at the end of the 2013 campaign, but Gallagher was always the No. 1 candidate to take the reins once the Glenties man had done his turn.

And so it came to pass. Gallagher in charge of Donegal. At 36 (he doesn’t turn 37 until around the time of the All-Ireland semi-final this year), he could just as easily be a player-manager.

Many of the qualities that the team possessed under the McGuinness/Gallagher system are still there, but you would think that the ‘Brazil’ in Gallagher will allow them just a teeny little bit more freedom. But we won’t really know that until Tyrone come to MacCumhaill Park for that mouth-watering championship opener on May 17th.

Gallagher has had charge of Donegal for six games to date - three in the Dr. McKenna Cup and three in the league - and the win/loss ratio is 4-2. The two losses have been away from home (to Derry in Owenbeg and Dublin in Croke Park).

He will be very happy with the home form - played four, won four. The Dr. McKenna Cup for Donegal for the past five years has been all about giving fringe players a chance and that’s how it should be.

Now almost half-way through the National League campaign, Donegal have made a satisfactory start, even though they struggled to hold on last week against Cork in difficult playing conditions.

The league gets more competitive each year. Judging by the some of the scenes in Castlebar and Killarney last weekend, maybe it is too competitive.

On Sunday in Letterkenny, one of the combatants in Castlebar, Monaghan come searching for much-needed league points. They are sitting in one of the relegation spots after two successive defeats and that, as much as anything, will make them very difficult opponents. They had two players - Stephen Gollogly and Ryan Wylie - shown straight red cards. Maybe that will make them more cautious, but I don’t think so. It is not the Monaghan way.

Donegal lost Michael Murphy to a second yellow card against Cork and in his absence the Rebels sensed that there might have been something for them in the fixture after all. The lesson for Donegal is that discipline, despite provocation, is paramount. No doubt every team in the country will target Michael Murphy now but he is experienced enough to cope with that.

The league points at home are so vital. A win for Donegal on Sunday puts them four clear of Monaghan and very close to the safety net for survival in Division One. Defeat and they will be in a dogfight for the remaining three games - two of which are difficult trips to Tralee and Castlebar.

Rory Gallagher has mentioned a number of times already this year the poor Donegal record on the road. Going to Tralee to face Kerry and Castlebar to face Mayo are not the sort of games that you would be rushing to your bookie to check out the odds on an away win.

That brings Donegal and Gallagher and Sunday’s encounter with Monaghan back into sharp focus. Donegal have a good record against the Farney men. They were much too strong for them at the same venue last year - 2-11 to 0-10. Odhrán MacNiallais came of age in that game, nothing a great goal and went on to have a fantastic year in the Donegal colours.

Donegal and Rory Gallagher will be hoping that MacNiallais or someone else steps up to the plate on Sunday.

But there is a bigger picture! A win would allow the manager to start his championship preparations and, after all, that is the No. 1 agenda of all intercounty managers.

The Belleek native had a capacity to be animated on the sideline as manager of Kilcar, but he cuts a very disciplined figure with the Donegal tracksuit. The family background is steeped in GAA and there was always strong connection to Tir Chonaill due to the close geography.

In charge of Donegal, it is a case of so far, so good. There will always be comparisons to what went before under Jim McGuinness, and that is totally unfair. But he, more than most, will know that. As a player, he was different and successful, so there is no reason to suggest that as a manager, he can also achieve.

A win on Sunday would be a further step on that rung - maintaining a 100% home record and a comfort zone in the Division One table.

Division One League Table

P W L D F A Pts

1 MAYO 3 2 1 0 51 35 4

2 CORK 3 2 1 0 49 47 4

3 KERRY 3 2 1 0 45 43 4

4 DONEGAL 3 2 1 0 41 39 4

5 TYRONE 3 1 1 1 34 37 3

6 DUBLIN 3 1 2 0 45 44 2

7 MONAGHAN 3 1 2 0 46 53 2

8 DERRY 3 0 2 1 36 49 1