Donegal manager Rory Gallagher in Ballybofey
Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, had the look of a man happy with the night’s work done following Donegal’s six point win over Tyrone in the rain in Ballybofey on Saturday night.
He had just witnessed one of Donegal’s best performances in the league campaign so far in quite trying conditions and against the old enemy Tyrone.
“We’d have been very pleased with the first half performance. We got some great scores and I thought we were full value for the five-point lead, ” was the Donegal manager’s immediate response when asked to sum up the latest Donegal, Tyrone contest.
“The second half was very scrappy, and hard to watch even from our point of view. There wasn’t a lot of football played.”
But Gallagher was happy that the game plan had worked and that Donegal found a way to unlock Tyrone’s trademark defensive system.
“We set out our goal, we had to get at Tyrone. They’ve a great defensive system in place the last couple of years that we’ve found difficult to break down.
“But we went at it with a really positive attitude and we did very well overall. We won the midfield battle on any long kickouts I thought, and our defensive display was quite good.”
And he was also happy with his own team’s defending that held a potent Tyrone attack to six points.
“Tyrone, if they smell a chance at all, they’ll go for the jugular. I thought we had some great last-gasp defending.
“I suppose the conditions helped. At that stage, it was hard for Tyrone to get their slick hand-passing going.”
Gallagher did not go down the road of it being the best performance of the campaign and likened it to the Cavan game in Kingspan Breffni Park, albeit against a better quality opposition.
“We were quite good in the first half against Cavan and killed the game off well in the second half.
“Today, you’re playing Tyrone, who we all rate as one of the top teams in the country, and they were the best team in the province last year without a shadow of a doubt.”
On the physical nature of the game, the former Fermanagh star said that he would expect nothing less when Donegal and Tyrone collide.
However, he was very happy with the discipline shown by Donegal right throughout the game.
“A key part for us is our discipline, and I thought we were quite disciplined.”
On the fact that they were now joint top of the table along with Dublin and Kerry and in with a chance of reaching the league final the Donegal boss said: “That became a bit evident after we beat Cavan. We’re far from out of it.
“We set no targets at the start of the year in terms of survival or reaching a league final.
“We just wanted to be better at the end of the League than we were at the start. That will continue against Monaghan next Sunday.”
The Donegal boss did not see Saturday night’s victory and the manner of its execution as a psychological boost ahead of a possible meeting down the road, in this summer’s championship.
“I don’t see it like that. It’s March 18, we don’t play Championship until May 21.
“A lot will change by then, the ground will harden up and it will be another titanic tussle if we do meet. We’ve Antrim to play and that’s our sole focus at the minute, we want to arrive in great shape for it.”
New kids on the block, Ciaran Thompson and Eoghan ‘Bán’ Gallagher were once one again among the standout players for Donegal.
This and the impact the young players have made in their rookie season has pleased the Donegal boss no end.
“When I sat down with the county board with the players we knew we had for this year, we thought we had a very bright future.
“We went in with an open mind. It’s no different from two years ago, you went in with a team that had a lot of football played but the reality is that their best days are behind you, but you train hard and try to get the best out of the resources you have.
“That’s what our boys are doing now and they’re far from the finished article, we just want to be better by the end of the league.
“That’s the breed of player we’ve developed through the county, the clubs have developed them through underage.
“They like their natural running game. It always has been a possession based game in Donegal. But we can’t just run it, we have to mix it at times. It wasn’t a day for long ball; against Tyrone it’s not easy to hit your full-forward line, but when we’ve Patrick [McBrearty] on board we can try to vary it a bit. I’m very pleased with elements of the running play in the first half.
“I thought our attitude was good, their key men weren’t having an impact.”
On the injury front latest the Donegal boss outlined that Frank McGlynn was withdrawn due to a hamstring problem.
Caolan Ward had picked up a quad injury and Patrick McBrearty was close to starting and that Darach ‘Jigger’ O’Connor had to have minor keyhole surgery on a knee injury.
“Frank’s hamstring started to tighten up in the heavy conditions. He tightened up during the week, too, but we felt he was good to go.
“It was a case at half-time if he stayed on he was going to pull it so we had to take him out.
“Caolan Ward pulled up on Thursday night with a minor quad kind of hip injury.
“He was good to go and was training really well and it is unfortunate for Caolan.
“We are now going to have to wait to see how the next week to ten days go for him.
“Jigger needs keyhole surgery on his knee. He won’t be out for too long.
“But he will be out until the end of the league. We expect him to be back again the week after the league. It is now a matter of when we can get the surgery, but it is very minor.
“We were very optimistic that Patrick would play. But he felt it wasn’t right and if it had been championship we would have played him but at the end of the day, it is still the league.”