Donegal Assistant manager, Rory Gallagher insists Donegal will be going all out for the win against Dublin in MacCumhaill Park on Sunday (3.00 p.m.), as they look to retain their Division 1 status.
Jim McGuinness’s side sit dangerously close to the relegation zone in 6th position in the Allianz National Football league, with four points, while their opponents Dublin have enjoyed a much more successful campaign and sit joint top with Tyrone.
Gallagher believes it is a must win game for his team: “I suppose it would be a must-win game, in regard to the league. If we don’t win we are very much dependant on other results. We’ll definitely be going all out for a win.”
Donegal found themselves in an almost identical position last year, needing to defeat Armagh at home to survive in the league’s premier division. A three-point win kept them up, and Gallagher is hoping for a similar outcome this weekend.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we were relegated to be honest. The championship is the number one goal in Gaelic football, but it wouldn’t be ideal preparation. Last year we stayed up on the last day, and it was a good confidence booster as we were going into the championship.”
Dublin have been in excellent form under the guidance of new manager, Jim Gavin, and they come to Ballybofey with a league semi-final spot already booked.
Gavin could turn to some of his fringe players who have been in the periphery so far this season for Sunday’s game. However, Gallagher believes that might not necessarily weaken Dublin, as their squad players stake a claim for game time during the Championship.
“Dublin are the one county in Ireland that could probably field two or three different teams at a very high level. They have no shortage of players down to the sheer number of clubs and size of the county,” said Gallagher.
“Whatever team they bring will be formidable, and if it’s not some of their regulars it will be others trying to make an impression and get into the championship squad,” he added.
The game will pit McGuinness against Gavin for the first time since their All-Ireland under 21 final, when Gavin’s charges defeated Donegal in Kingspan Breffni Park.
Gavin was also in charge of the Dublin under 21 team that clinched the All-Ireland under 21 title last year also, and he has introduced a number of players from both sides to the senior set-up.
Donegal will still be without the 2012 Footballer of the Year, Karl Lacey (groin), for the clash of Dublin, but Gallagher says that the management are happy with the progress he is making.
“He’s making really good progress, so he is. He’s back running and he’s pain free, everything is going according to plan. So we’d be hoping that he’d be back integrating with us fully in the next two to three weeks.”
Donegal will be without Neil McGee, who limped out of Donegal’s last game against Mayo, while Paddy McGrath and Neil Gallagher are also doubts having sat out both rounds of All-County league fixtures for Ardara and Glenswilly, respectively, last week.
“Neil McGee won’t make it, nor Paddy McGrath and Neil Gallagher is unlikely to feature too. They are all just carrying wee niggles, that needed rest. Neil (McGee) obviously got a bang on his knee the last day, so he’ll have to sit it out, but they all should be back within the next few weeks.”
Despite the prospect of relegation hanging over Donegal, there is also the possibility that they could join Dublin in the league semi-finals if results go their way.
The Donegal management have been adamant that their focus is on their Ulster quarter-final clash with Tyrone on May 26, and they began their championship training on Tuesday night last. However, Gallagher confirmed that they would be delighted to reach the league semi-finals.
“We’re kind of focusing on the championship from here on in. That was our plan all along. The training will be a small bit different from usual.
“If we got the win on Sunday, and we were lucky enough to make the play-offs, we’d be delighted. That would mean one more game, and a chance to gives the lads one more competitive game, and possibly look at a few other players as well.”
But before Donegal can think that far ahead they must secure their survival. A win will almost certainly guarantee this, and Gallagher admits that it is Donegal’s first real test this year.
“It’s the closest we’ve had to a knock-out so far this season. All the games in Division 1 are big games. But there is a huge prize for winning this week, it will more or less ensure us of staying up in the division.”