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Rory Gallagher is thinking of Donegal's bigger picture

By Declan Bogue

As far as the GAA are concerned, it's not a competition unless there are at least one, preferably three do-or-die games at the end of it.

A league system whereby the top team lifts the trophy at completion of their round-robin games has the novelty factor of hen's teeth. Instead, the kingmakers like to tag on a bit of knockout, in deference to the Championship format and pursuit of gate receipts.

The Allianz Football League has become an incredible competition since they settled on a satisfactory format in time for the 2008 leagues, but this weekend it enters a twilight zone of bum steers.

Last year, Donegal returned from a training camp only for Monaghan to mow them down in the Division Two final.

After they reversed the result in the Ulster final, then manager Jim McGuinness said: "The league final didn't rock us. Tactically, there were four or five things we were working on. But we had to look at the bigger picture, no disrespect to the league. We had to prioritise."

His successor, Rory Gallagher, will be thinking the same this weekend as Donegal face Cork in one semi-final, while Monaghan face Dublin seven days after they were spanked by them by 11 points in Clones.

Last weekend, Donegal were doing enough to ensure they stayed up. Now they have to box clever and bear in mind the fortunes of their neighbours in the north-west last year, according to former player Brendan Devenney.

"You have the prospect of Dublin in Croke and nobody wants that," says Devenney of a possible league final pairing.

A place in the league final would leave Gallagher with three weeks to hone in on a combustible Ulster preliminary round wrestle with Tyrone.

With a series of club fixtures coming up, Donegal could do without any more of their weekends being clogged up.

So does he send out a team to hit the canvas?

"Everybody approaches the league in the same way. They want competitive games and they don't want to worry about winning it," explains Devenney.

"In Ulster, everybody wants that time to gel. For Donegal, playing a decent game on Sunday and losing by a couple of points would be their ultimate."

Monaghan come at this weekend with different intentions. They need to find a formation that prevents heavy defeat to Dublin, after the 17-point loss in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final and last week's 11-point defeat.

They have spent most of this week in Portugal at a training camp, but the cloud cover and occasional showers left it more Aghnamullen than Algarve.

In his three league campaigns, Malachy O'Rourke has led Monaghan to the Division Three and Two titles and now into the Division One semis.

"It's a National title. You don't get these opportunities too often," says Eugene 'Nudie' Hughes, a league winner in 1985 and perhaps Monaghan's greatest player. "The main thing was to secure Division One status, and everything else was a bonus after that."

The danger is that Monaghan could return as fatigued as Donegal a year ago and fall behind early.

"They have earned it, no question about it," says Hughes of the training camp.

"Monaghan have to play at their peak all the time. They have to be in the face of the opposition from the word go."

Should Monaghan gain a win over the Dubs, that would leave four weeks between a league final and their trip to Cavan for the Ulster first round game.

It might actually pay to unashamedly go full bore for a league final. Imagine.

DONEGAL (v Cork): M Boyle; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; F McGlynn, K Lacey, A Thompson; M McElhinney, C Toye; M Reilly, O MacNiallais, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy (Capt), C McFadden.

MONAGHAN (v Dublin): R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O'Connell; N McAdam, D Hughes; D Mone, P Finlay, O Duffy; D Malone, K Hughes, C McManus (Capt).

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