Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Eoghan Bán Gallagher was sixteen when Donegal won the second and last of the county’s two All-Ireland titles in 2012.
Now, five years on, the 16-year-old has turned 21 and is set to start a Ulster Senior Championship game for the first time on Sunday when Donegal face Antrim.
“This will be my first championship start, if I start. I made my debut from the bench last year so hopefully I will make my first start on Sunday,” said Eoghan, a second year accountancy student at Sligo IT.
Like all young boys that ever kicked a Gaelic football, Eoghan’s dream was to tog out in the green and gold of Donegal, just like his father before him, John Bán Gallagher, had done.
“I was in Croke Park for every game in 2012 and saw the buzz that was in the county when Donegal were doing well and after we won the All-Ireland,” said Eoghan Bán.
“It drove me on to do well and be the next Karl Lacey or whoever and hopefully now I can and enjoy a good long career with Donegal.”
And his boyhood appetite to play for Donegal seniors was whetted further with Donegal minor footballers’ run to the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.
He was an influential member of the 2014 minor team and picked up the man of the match award for his performance in the Ulster final win over Armagh.
The 2014 team was the first Donegal minor team to reach an All-Ireland final before losing the decider to Kerry.
“It was a great year. The Ulster final day playing in front of all them Donegal supporters and the seniors in the final as well was a brilliant year.
“There was a huge build-up to the All-Ireland final. I remember all the people were talking about was the All-Ireland final. It was a massive experience for us.”
A year later Eoghan was among a number of the 2014 and 2015 minor team members called up by senior manager Rory Gallagher.
And he made his senior debut against Down in the Dr McKenna Cup in 2016.
He made his Allianz League debut against Roscommon last season in O’Donnell Park.
And he is now a shoe-in for his first senior championship start this Sunday against Antrim, on the back of an impressive league campaign.
He also put in a number of big performances in Donegal’s Ulster U-21 winning campaign.
“It has been a tough lesson and I have done a lot a learning over the last few years.
“I have been in the (squad) two to three years and every day you go out you try and learn something and improve.
“I have enjoyed being in the background watching other players and how they adapt themselves.
“I watch how Karl (Lacey), Paddy McGrath and Michael (Murphy) push themselves at training every night. And they have been around for years.
“So I take a leaf out of their book and work hard in training.”
Between the Allianz League and the U-21 championship, which ended with a disappointing All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, it has been a hectic start to 2017 for the young Killybegs man.
But despite the schedule of games, Eoghan insists he has enjoyed every minute.
And he dismisses any suggestion that the opening four months were a little too hectic and that he had simply too many games in a short space of time.
“I don’t think so. It is what you train all year for and you want to be playing games rather than training.
“I think that is part of it nowadays. There is a good few of the lads up from when I was minor. And I have played with them over the last few years with the U-21s.
“We are well used to playing together for a good few years now and it is a matter of blending in with Ryan McHugh and Michael (Murphy) and the rest of the senior players.”
On this year’s league campaign despite missing out on qualifying for the league final and a crack at Dublin, Eoghan was happy with Donegal’s season so far.
“We took the learnings from every game. You look at the Kerry game, the very first day, we were a little too open, our tackling wasn’t great.
“We took the learnings from that game and we seemed to improve every day we played.
“Looking back now we probably didn’t do enough to qualify for the league final. When the opportunity was there and we didn’t take it obviously we were disappointed.
“But overall we are happy with the way the league went.”
As well as the disappointment of not qualifying for the league decider Eoghan also had to get over the loss of the All-Ireland U-21 semi-final defeat to Dublin.
“We had a few days’ break after we lost the semi-final to Dublin and had a few days to think about it.
“Personally, I was happy to be back training and having something to focus on rather than sitting around and thinking of what might have been.
“It was so good to get back training so soon afterwards.”
For Eoghan and Donegal in recent weeks the focus has been on Antrim and Sunday’s game.
“Everybody knows that championship is what it is all about at the end of the year.
“Nobody is going to look back and say they had a good league campaign. It’s all about the championship.”