GAELIC GAMES

Rory Gallagher excited about new Allianz National League campaign

Donegal start with Kerry on Sunday

Rory Gallagher excited about the upcoming league

Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Rory Gallagher is really excited and looking forward to the forthcoming Allianz National Football League which begins this Sunday against Kerry in O’Donnell Park. (Throw-in 2 pm)

Despite the loss of big name players - Colm McFadden, Eamon McGee, Christy Toye, Rory Kavanagh and David Walsh all retired, and the departure of Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson and Odhran MacNiallais - the Donegal boss is quite upbeat and optimistic ahead of the new Allianz National Football League.

And he was like the wee boy that had his homework done and just couldn’t wait to sit his exams at Tuesday’s press briefing in the Villa Rose Hotel, Ballybofey.

The infusion of a new crop of players mostly from successful minor and U-21 teams in recent seasons and a good autumn training programme is fuelling that optimism.

Up to 16 of those minors and U-21s are in the Donegal squad and have been on a special training programme since as far back as last September.

Five to six of those players, and maybe even more, are expected to see action in the league.

Beginning this Sunday Jason McGee, just out of minor, Michael Langan, Michael Carroll, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Jamie Brennan, Caolan McGonigle and Conor Morrison, from the previous years’ U-18 squads, are all in the frame to start against the Kingdom.

Gaoth Dobhair’s Kieran Gillespie and Cian Mulligan are also among the younger crop but miss out this weekend due to injury.

And there are a couple others, too, like former Leitrim player Paul Brennan, now playing his club football in Donegal with Bundoran, and Caolan Ward, who are expected to be in the team for Sunday’s showdown.

Unlike in the last couple of seasons when he was targeting six and seven league points and retaining top flight status, this time around Gallagher admitted that he would not turn up his nose at a good run in the league.

He would gladly take a league final if the opportunity presents itself.

“We are really looking forward to this league,” said the Donegal boss.

“The dynamic is completely different this year. The reality is the last couple of years we were going into the league with players, a lot whom had won the National League in 2007.

“And some of them played in a Division Two final in 2006 and the league was not that appealing to them.

The last number of years when you have been Ulster champions, when you have been in Ulster finals, been All-Ireland champions, and in All-Ireland final, particularly in 2015, there was no appetite at all for the league.

THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT

“All you want to do is survive. This year is different. This is a new team; we've had a big pre-season and we have trained really hard.

“We have trained an awful lot more than the last couple of years.

“I know in 2011 when we got involved, Division Two was exciting because it was a new beginning.

“So I'm looking forward to it. Is it daunting? Yes, it is, because we have a young team and because we have got so many new players.

“But I'm looking forward to the challenge of it.

“I have a very open mind to the league and wherever we end up we end up. But the important thing is that we improve; that we can see these younger players get up to speed.

“I have no doubt they are going to be top class inter-county players but it is not easy to be a top county player when you are 18½ , 19 or 19½ .

“But I feel we still have a lot of experience to carry them through and help them learn to be top class county players.

EXPERIENCE

That experience comes in the form of Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey, Martin McElhinney, Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty.

Karl Lacey and Martin McElhinney are nursing injuries and are not in the squad for Sunday. Neil Gallagher is still in rehab and Eamonn Doherty has recovered from illness and is back training again.

“Karl picked up a calf injury before Christmas. He was going really well at the time. He is back training and is going well again but this weekend’s game is coming too soon for him but he should be in the frame for the Roscommon game, the following weekend,” Rory Gallagher explained.

“Martin (McElhinney) is recovering from a back injury. He has gone through a rehab programme and is back training again and I expect him back integrated in the training in the next week or so.

“He is out of the frame this weekend and the following weekend. I feel the Dublin game is a more realistic option for Martin.”

Gallagher also confirmed that big Neil Gallagher’s rehab is going well and that he is back running pain free

“If we end up in a league final I will be delighted. We have a lot of work done and we have trained very hard and we are in good shape and our fitness levels are high for the time of year.

“The boys have a good appetite to play in the league; they are very hungry for it.

“There is no easy game and the fact that we have four at home does not make it any easier. there is nothing easy about Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone or Monaghan.

“They are four top drawer teams, as are all the teams in Division One, and we will know where we are at the end of it and know how we are fixed for the championship at the end of it.”

Rory Gallagher will finalise his team tonight (Thursday) for Sunday’s showdown with Kerry, and providing none of his squad pick up any knocks, it is expected to be along the lines of that which started against Mayo in last Sunday’s challenge in Sligo.