Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, says winning an Ulster title is a very special prize.
“It’s going to take a huge effort, no doubt about that. I think the season has been steadily building since the 12th of June for us, and likewise for Tyrone. We felt if we could do our work and get to an Ulster final, it was likely that it would be Tyrone, and that’s the way it has transpired.
“I think we are the two best teams in the province. It’s set for a titanic struggle. It’s an occasion we have got used to, but never taken for granted. It’s a very special prize to be Ulster champions,” said Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, speaking at the Ulster final press day in the Donegal Co. Council Chamber in Lifford on Monday evening.
“We’re in good shape, bar Neil Gallagher. We have everybody available. We would be as strong fitness-wise as we’ve been at any stage during the year,” he said.
Gallagher would not be drawn on the recent comments of Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte, on pitch incursions by mentors, and wanted to speak just about what an Ulster final means.
“Donegal supporters have bought into the Ulster championship over the last few years. It was not long ago it was 19 years since they won one. All I can say is to our group of players the Ulster championship is very special. To be in an Ulster final is a very privileged position and to win it is even better.”
He was quick to praise the players for getting to a sixth final in-a-row: “It’s a massive achievement for this group of players, for the players that have been there for all six and for the lads that have come in, it’s a phenomenal achievement, and I think it is great credit to themselves and to the county as a whole, for the effort and the dedication they have put in. But also for the quality. To think of the run we have been on in Ulster; to have lost just two games, with the amount of competitive games we have played, it’s an incredible record, but at the same time, that is very much parked now. It's all focus on Sunday and trying to get over the line.”
Gallagher is managing Donegal in a second Ulster final, but turned around a question that he still has to win one, while Mickey Harte and Tyrone have yet to beat Donegal in recent times: “I would disagree that I haven’t won an Ulster final. I have won two Ulster championships, which I was very honoured to be part of (as a mentor in 2011 and 2012).
“As regards Tyrone not having beaten us, they have been very competitive games, none more so than last year’s. There are very fine margins and we would expect something similar. Tyrone are obviously on a tremendous run. Since we beat them last year, they have lost only one competitive game in God knows how many.
“They are coming into it on a lot of form, but we would be pleased with where we’re at.”
The Donegal manager reflected back on 2011 and the first of the recent meetings: “If you go back to 2011, Tyrone were one of the favourites for the All-Ireland. You could imagine at the time they were definitely one of the top three. They were going for their third Ulster championship in-a-row, and nobody would have seen that. It’s the way it transpired that they didn’t get back to win an Ulster championship.
“But at the same time, we would feel that we had to play very well in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to beat those teams.”
Asked if Donegal were improving, he said: “I think we are. We’re playing in some ways, in the last day against Monaghan, more as an attacking force as we ever did. Obviously we would be disappointed with the concession of goals, but we would be very content with the place we are and the quality of players that are available to us.”
Asked if the extra game against Monaghan would be a help, he replied: “Well the fact that Neil McGee’s suspension was used up, it was a massive advantage. To come through two tight battles like that; Monaghan are a tremendous team that never ever lay down. The first day I felt we should have won the game by a few points, but at the same time I was glad when it was blown up and we got a draw, because Monaghan had a wee bit of momentum.
“The second day, I felt we came out and took control of the game. We switched off on a couple of occasions, which we don’t normally do. But we showed tremendous character,” said Rory.
And what does Rory feel that Tyrone bring? “They bring an awful lot of good players. They were in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2013 and they lost a couple of players that year against Mayo. They obviously wouldn’t be happy with 2014. They regrouped, even though they got relegated last year, but they probably played better against Dublin last year than any team in the league. They have just kept building and building. They have a very similar style of play to ourselves; they get bodies behind the ball. It is going to be a huge challenge,” said Rory, who added that they had threats all over the field.
As regards pressure on Mickey Harte, Gallagher feels it is no different than anyone else. “He’s building another new team. I think every set up and players feel the pressure to deliver. He feels he has a team good enough. I wouldn’t say he has any different pressure than ourselves. But at the same time, they want to be Ulster champions,” said Gallagher, who feels it has helped Donegal to be in Division One.
“I would rather play in Division One, but they have huge momentum. I think a lot of it goes out the window now that the championship is up and running. It is completely different to league.”
Asked about Tyrone being hot favourites, Gallagher said: “To be honest, I’m not overly interested in the bookies, never have been. When you look back, there were a lot of big games Donegal haven’t been favourites for. We just concern ourselves with what’s in front of us; what we see in Tyrone. We are confident that if we play well and produce the right levels of intensity and energy that we have the players capable of beating anybody.
“We’re not overly concerned with what people say about us. We know we have a lot of lads that have played a lot of football. We know we have lads over 30 years of age but we also know the quality that is in them. The team has been energised with new lads, who haven’t played a lot of championship football.
“You have Patrick (McBrearty), I don’t think he’s 23 yet, playing in his sixth Ulster final in-a-row; you have Odhrán (Mac Niallais) going into his third or fourth; you have Ryan (McHugh) in his third; you have Eoin (McHugh) and Marty O’Reilly possibly starting their first ones. You really only have Mark Anthony (McGinley) who hasn’t experienced a lot from the point of view of playing.”
As for the tactical battle, Gallagher was asked if he would lose any sleep: “I’d be pretty sure I won’t sleep, but it will be down to three young kids, one only two months old, but something I’ve become accustomed to. The tactical element, no. It is something we would be very, very comfortable with. We know we are coming up against Tyrone, who are very shrewd tactically. But we like to feel our players are very adaptable and take information. We would be very comfortable with our own style of play,” he said.