Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher had one objective at the start of the Allianz National League season and that was that Donegal would emerge at the end of the campaign a better side.
Gallagher takes Donegal to Elverys McHale Park, Castlebar, on Sunday, in second place in the Division One league table, just a point adrift of double champions Dublin.
And the overwhelming view among friend and foe is that Gallagher has met his target and that new look Donegal are not only an improved team, but they are back in the mix and right up there again as serious challengers.
One man that has been impressed with the way Donegal have grown and developed in the league is former Donegal and Mayo star Martin Carney, now resident in Mayo.
“Donegal have made serious strides in the league, and I’m thrilled with what I have seen,” said the double Ulster championship winner with Donegal and a winner of four Connacht titles with Mayo.
“And I have to confess, and with up to 11 of the 2012 All-Ireland squad having moved on, I was expecting a period of adjustment of the next couple of years.
“If I’m honest I was expecting Donegal to be relegation candidates and instead they are coming to Castlebar on Sunday hoping to clinch a place in the league final.
“The young players have come in and really adjusted to the game at the higher level. Ciaran Thompson has been a revelation in the middle of the field and I have also been fiercely impressed with Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher.
“I saw Eoghan in Ballina earlier in the year in the FBD League. He was playing for Sligo IT against Mayo that day and while it wasn’t a standout performance what impressed me about him was his pace and running, both on and off the ball.
“Overall what Donegal have done in the league so far is remarkable and they are right back up among the top two or three teams in the country. It all bodes well for the summer.”
After losing to Kerry first day out and a stuttering one point win over Roscommon in the second round, Donegal have come on in leaps and bounds in recent games.
Mayo have shown very mixed form in the campaign so far.
They have lost twice at home, to Monaghan and Cavan, and suffered a humiliating 12 point defeat to Dublin in Croke Park.
Their three wins have been against Kerry (away), Roscommon at home and Tyrone last Sunday in Omagh.
They had a point to spare at the end of that game for a 1-10 to 0-12 victory over the Red Hands, to take them on to six points.
According to Martin Carney, last Sunday’s win and performance in Omagh was their best of the campaign so far as they reverted to last summer’s tried and trusted system of play.
“Up to last Sunday’s game, Mayo had played a very open and by and large expansive game in all their matches.
“But against Tyrone, they reverted back to a more defensive system and in fact at times they played double sweepers.
“Shane Nally and David Drake, two players that were not named to start, replaced Conor O’Shea and Evan Regan and played sweeping roles at the back.
“This was very noticeable after Tom Parsons scored the goal and I suppose it was best exemplified by the fact that Mayo scored four points from six shots on goal in the second half. And at the same time they held Tyrone to four points in that period.
“And quite frankly I expect them to employ the same tactics this Sunday against Donegal, because the stakes are still high for Mayo.
“If results elsewhere were to go against them, they could find themselves relegated and nobody in Mayo wants that.
“It is for that reason I expect Mayo to win on Sunday, because their need to avoid relegation is greater than Donegal’s need to reach a league final.
“But I expect there will be very little between the two teams. I was just looking at the recent record between the two in the league.
“Since 2012 they have met four times with two wins each and the biggest margin was seven points but in the last three meeting the margin was four, three and two points.”
Donegal go into Sunday’s tie on eight points from their six games. They are level points with Monaghan, but ahead of their Ulster rivals on score average. Tyrone are in fourth place on seven points.
Mayo and Kerry on six points; Cavan, who are still in with chance of survival, are on four and can catch Mayo.
On score average Donegal are on plus +12 and Monaghan are on +6.