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Gallagher praises star McBrearty's rise to prominence

By Declan Bogue

It was just before Paddy McBrearty's withdrawal against Armagh that we spotted something interesting about Rory Gallagher.

McBrearty had already helped himself to a superb goal and excellent point in the first half and was hungry for more digits after his name. He got a chance in space, perfectly positioned at the edge of the 'D' and kicked for a point. It landed tamely short.

On the line, manager Gallagher looked furious. At the time, we took it to be disgust that such a simple chance was not converted and nodded sagely at McBrearty's immediate substitution.

It turned out McBrearty had already signalled to the sideline that his hamstring was tight, and they had been preparing his replacement.

"The next thing I saw was that he was about to kick the ball and I was afraid he would pull it!" reflected Gallagher this week.

Naturally - this is Donegal we are talking about - McBrearty had supporting runners to his right and left he could have offloaded to, but as his manager explained: "I would say Patrick is just a big kid, he wanted another shot at goal."

That boyish enthusiasm of McBrearty for kicking a ball is matched by Gallagher who, as a player himself, would regularly take himself off on free days to practice the art of kicking the football outside of regular trainings days and nights.

Gallagher has been a constant presence in McBrearty's flowering as a footballer. He probably would always have made it, but it hasn't done any harm in having the Fermanagh native close by all the same.

Last year, the Kilcar youngster found himself frozen out of Jim McGuinness' starting XV as he elected instead to start Darach O'Connor in the All-Ireland final.

This year has been different. McBrearty started every National League game and finished with an aggregate tally of 1-24.

Any attacker just wants faith invested in him and McBrearty is no different.

"I am pleased to see the way he is going. I am not in any way surprised, this is what I would have expected of him, having seen him so often and having seen him in training," said Gallagher.

"I think it's just a natural progression for him and the dynamic of the team now. Michael and Colm will be in there with him, he is in there all the time as the main man, and that suits him."

Keeping him posted near the square allows Michael Murphy to play as the deep-lying playmaker. No wonder Peter Canavan included him last week in his list of top 10 most influential players in Gaelic football.

"There's no doubt he provides us with flexibility to our team and he gives us that option. It's his natural position but you might see Michael in there at stages too," explained Gallagher.

This weekend he could be marked by Brendan Rogers. It will be the Slaughtneil man's second ever game for Derry, while for McBrearty, it will be his 27th Championship match involved with Donegal. The two are the same age - 21.

If anything is to be in their Ulster semi-final meeting with Derry, it will not be Brian McIver's intimate knowledge of the Donegal players.

Gallagher acknowledged: "Brian knows the players individually and I know the players have great affection for him. But it has been seven or eight years since Brian was there and moved on."

What he is wary of, however, is their accumulation of experience. He explained: "The one thing to watch is that the Armagh team are a young, emerging team.

"Derry are more experienced. A lot of them won a National League in 2008, played in a National League final last year and some have played in an All-Ireland club final.

"They are a more mature team than possibly Tyrone and Armagh are. They have been around the block, they know what it is like to play in big games."

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