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Gallagher believes his men are a bigger threat now than when they lost their title

By Declan Bogue

Published 16/07/2016

Biting back: Rory Gallagher has made changes after losing the 2015 final
Biting back: Rory Gallagher has made changes after losing the 2015 final

Given their acrimonious parting of the ways in 2013, some cynical observers would be forgiven for sensing a little pressure being heaped on Donegal manager Rory Gallagher by predecessor Jim McGuinness last week when he insisted tomorrow's Ulster final against Tyrone was "as big as an All-Ireland final".

Gallagher was keen to stay away from that explicit comparison. However, he said: "It's huge. I think there is a lot at stake and it is an Ulster Championship that both teams want, for different reasons. It is a final we want to win."

Last year, Donegal took care of Tyrone, Armagh and Derry to reach the final against Monaghan. The defending champions were denied a replay by inches as Paddy McBrearty's late effort hooked just wide.

Asked if there was a need to change much in their approach over the winter, Gallagher responded: "Despite the very narrow margins last year in the final, we weren't good enough.

"Monaghan took their chances, they were that wee bit better than us on the day. That's something we had to think about all winter. Subsequently, we didn't perform well enough against Mayo and we have to look at the reasons for that.

"We feel we tried to address them. We have brought a few players into the team, re-energised the team, made a few changes to the way we play and I think we are attacking as a team that wee bit better than this time last year."

Eoin McHugh has added a new dimension in attack, his dribbling ability only bettered by his cousin Ryan, while Ciaran Gillespie has earned a start in the full-back line ahead of veteran Eamonn McGee.

Yet it is the return of Neil McGee, slapped with a two-match suspension after the quarter-final win over Fermanagh, that has handed Donegal a huge boost - the semi-final clash against Monaghan going to a replay has turned into quite a positive.

"We see Neil as a top-class defender and a big leader in our set-up," said Gallagher. "Thankfully the way the draw worked out, he is available for the Ulster final. He is a man who relishes the big battles and generally comes up with the goods.

"He has played in something like 50 Championship games since his debut (across 11 seasons). We understood the referee's decision on the day and it was a heavy price to pay. Thankfully the boys have dug him out and he is there for us."

And Michael Murphy is also injury-free for the first time this summer.

"He picked up something in the Club Championship, he went over on his ankle and strained ligaments quite badly," said Gallagher. "There was a bit of discomfort on the first few nights he trained, but that is over with now."

The question this current Tyrone team must answer is how much better they are than the side that were beaten by more than the three-point margin in Ballybofey last year would suggest.

A march straight to the All-Ireland semi-final says they are made of the right stuff, but then again, as captain Sean Cavanagh was at pains to note after the semi-final replay triumph over Cavan, this will be the first time this year they face Division One opposition.

Gallagher remarked: "They have a lot of character in their squad to react the way they did after getting knocked out in the preliminary round last year. That's what we expected them to do and they have continued that form into this year."

Is there a chance that Donegal might even suffer from complacency?

He added: "Not at all. In all those battles we have had with them over the years, we know that they have been extremely tight. If you look at our record in Ulster over the last six years, every single opponent has been treated with massive respect."

Belfast Telegraph

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