Donegal manager Declan Bonner must target promotion next season
Donegal are going to have to regroup for next season’s Allianz National Football League and win promotion back up to Division One once again.
That's the view of former Donegal All-Ireland winning full-back Matt Gallagher.
The Naomh Brid clubman also feels that his former playing colleague Declan Bonner is going to have to strengthen his squad. He said Sunday’s game against Tyrone showed that Donegal may not have the strength in depth that they thought they had available.
Gallagher spoke to the Democrat this week in the wake of Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Tyrone in Ballybofey.
Like all Donegal supportersleaving Ballybofey last Sunday evening, Gallagher was very disappointed with the defeat to the Red Hands and in the manner of how the defeat came about.
“It was very disappointing,” he said.
“At four points up with 20 minutes to go I thought we were in a good position and it was looking like we were going to go on to win.
“But with ten minutes to go we were out of it.
“They scored a goal and from that point on we were on the back foot and chasing the game.
“Patrick McBrearty was a huge loss and without him facing a Tyrone team that are more down the road than Donegal, was always going to be a tall order.
“Patrick would have occupied a couple of markers and there is a fair chance he would have kicked five or six scores. He would have been fouled for a few more scores.”
The Tyrone replacements scored 2-5 in the closing 20 minutes and ultimately turned the game in favour of the Red Hands.
“The Tyrone bench made a huge difference,” Gallagher said.
“The subs Mickey Harte introduced made a huge contribution and were the difference.
“We tried to defend a lead - whether that was a tactic or it just happened that way, as sometimes can happen.
“It was disappointing too because we were home and it was a great opportunity to reach an All-Ireland semi-final.
“But we can have no complaints. The better and stronger squad won. And that is one of the lessons to come out of the game - Declan needs to strengthen the squad.
“We saw it with Tyrone on Sunday and Dublin have it for a number of years - strong sub benches.
“It is important to have men than can come on and make an impact like Lee Brennan, Harry Loughran, Declan McClure and Kieran McGeary did on Sunday. Between them they scored 2-5, that’s impressive scoring by any standard.
“Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O’Gara have been doing the same for Dublin for years and in more recent times Paul Mannion and Cormac Costelloe have been doing it too for the Dubs.
“The game has moved on and it is no longer a 15 man game. It is now a 20/21 man game. This is something Declan has to work towards over the next year or so.”
Matt Gallagher also believes that Donegal can bounce back after being relegated at the end of last season.
“Division One is where you have to be if you want to be successful and in with a chance of winning All-Irelands.
“If you look at the four teams who are through to the All-Ireland semi-final - Dublin, Galway, Tyrone and Monaghan are all Division One teams and they were also the top four teams at the end of the league.
“It is a must that we get back up to Division One and playing a higher level of football.”
However, in a strange way, Gallagher feels playing in Division Two may be good for a Donegal team in transition.
“Yeah, Division Two might not be the worst place for this Donegal team,” he said.
“It will give Declan an opportunity to try more players and experiment a little more than if they were in the first team where you are under pressure to put out your best team in every game.
“A season in the second division with plenty of experimenting and young players gaining experience playing at a decent level is probably the best thing for Donegal.
“There is a good crop of young footballers coming through from underage and the have to be given a chance.
“As we’ve seen with Tyrone and Dublin we are going to have to build up a strong squad with plenty of options on the bench.
“But the target for next year's league still has to be promotion back to Division One.”
Despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s defeat the Naomh Brid man felt it was a reasonably good season for Donegal and manager Declan Bonner in the first season of his second term in charge.
“Any year when you win the Ulster Championship title is a good year,” Gallagher added.