Belfast Telegraph

Unrest in Donegal camp makes big showdown against Derry even more intriguing

It was in Donegal town, at the homecoming of the All-Ireland champions on September 24, 2012, sometime close to 11.00pm.

Captain Michael Murphy was on stage with the microphone. During the course of his speech he said: "Rory Gallagher has been a fantastic addition to Donegal football. We have thrived upon that."

It wasn't the first time the contribution of Gallagher had been warmly assessed by that group. The very first night he landed at training – brought in by Jim McGuinness after a couple of his initial selectors had dropped out due to the time demands – he knew each player by name, making a point of addressing them by name.

Then again, he always was a serious student of the game.

While at St Gall's, Gallagher forged a close relationship with manager Lenny Harbinson, who told this paper a couple of years ago about his input into the All-Ireland club triumph of 2010.

"We would have talked on a regular basis about tactics and how football should be played. It was very obvious from an early stage that he had lots of great ideas. He is very knowledgeable and thought-provoking," said Harbinson.

"It doesn't surprise me at all what Donegal, with Jim McGuinness and Rory there, have achieved.

"People who don't know Rory might underestimate his contribution, but it's a combination of Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher," he added.

At Donegal, Gallagher was a players' man. If one of the players wanted some leeway, such as Murphy, Karl Lacey and Rory Kavanagh nipping over to catch a bit of the weight-lifting events at the 2012 London Olympics, they "tended to go to Rory Gallagher for that sort of thing," as Lacey explained.

You used to hear loads of praise from Donegal players for Gallagher. Ever since he departed the management team last summer, the same cannot be said for the selectors brought in to replace him; Damien Diver, Paul McConigley and John Duffy. Their contribution has been unheralded by comparison.

In the meantime, Donegal have achieved what they wanted out of Division Two – promotion.

Off the pitch, it has been typical of the pre-McGuinness era of Donegal, when chaos was never far away.

After a training week in Portugal, Mark McHugh walked away from the panel along with some other squad players. Publicly, McHugh has said that it is nothing personal, he is fed up and has lost a little hunger.

However, he has thrown himself into action for his club Kilcar (whom, interestingly, are managed by Gallagher) and you have to ask yourself why a competitor like McHugh – an integral part of their All-Ireland win and an All-Star in the same year – would throw his hat at county football with Championship only around the corner?

All this conjecture has played out in time for their Championship visit to Celtic Park this Sunday. It has largely kept the spotlight off Derry.

The winners of this game are practically nailed-on for an Ulster final.

With everything at stake, Celtic Park will see skin and hair. Those of a delicate constitution should look away now.

Belfast Telegraph


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