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Rory Gallagher tipped to tweak Donegal style but basics to remain

By Declan Bogue

One of the odder utterances coming out of Donegal since Rory Gallagher succeeded Jim McGuinness as manager is the suggestion that the Fermanagh man has an onus to change the house style of the county football teams.

We caught something of this in Karl Lacey's interview mid-week when he told reporters that certain adjustments need to be made in the event of teams setting themselves up the same way as Donegal.

The example that has gained most traction seems to be the All-Ireland final, when it was suggested that Kerry in some way 'out-Donegal-ed' Donegal.

Kerry trainer Cian O'Neill has since refuted this, stating that they merely kept a solid defence, holding their shape throughout and not repeating the mistakes of Dublin, who allowed themselves to get sucked into a series of kamikaze attacks before being killed on the break by Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Lacey had his views aired, saying: "I think one thing we need to learn is that teams are starting to play like us so we need to know how to play against that as well. Whereas in other years, teams weren't playing like us, so we could just play our own game.

"Now we need to be able to deal with it and play against it. You saw that happen in the final. Kerry played very similar to us and we weren't able to deal with it, so that's one lesson that we need to take out of last year."

Donegal players have sometimes been a little bit precious about their system, which O'Neill explained as a counter-attacking ploy featuring 10 players all making a break at the same time.

Indeed, in the past there were suggestions from some players that in the wake of Down running them close in the Ulster semi-final of 2013, other teams would be better off not trying to ape their tactics as they were already a number of years down the road of refining their gameplan.

Within weeks that blueprint was left in tatters in Clones as Monaghan mirrored Donegal and took their Ulster title from them.

Still, that feeling of evolution, not revolution, seems to be strong among the hills.

A couple of weeks back, Eamon McGee was in typically illuminating form when he said: "Rory can't sell Jim's product, Rory has to sell his own gameplan, his own vision. Rory has to make his own mark. There is stuff that we're good at and we'll try and hold on to, but Rory will be putting his own stamp on Donegal."

Revisiting 2012, McGee continued: "After we won the All-Ireland, I said an important part of it was the triangle of Jim, Rory and Michael Murphy as captain.

"Rory is just very knowledgeable. He doesn't bluff you. He calls a spade a spade.

"He knows his stuff and you respect him."

So far, Gallagher has radiated positivity and appetite. Growing into the role won't be a concern.

As for changing anything tactically, the alterations may veer on the subtle side. After all, he was involved in a Kilcar team even as Donegal selector that played something broadly along Donegal lines.

Going back before that, St Gall's manager Lenny Harbinson spoke of how their All-Ireland success in 2010 owed plenty to the occasions when he would pick Gallagher's mind on tactics.

"The experienced players have been a big help," Gallagher has said of his return.

"They are very much aware of the new chapter. They show such great examples to the newer lads. It's why it's an exciting time for Donegal."

Last year's All-Ireland finalists will be continue to be compelling, even with Jim McGuinness gone.

DONEGAL (v Derry): P Durcan; P McGrath, E McGee, F McGlynn; R McHugh, K Lacey, C McGinley; N Gallagher, C Toye; M McHugh, M McElhinney, O MacNiallais; P McBrearty, M Murphy (C), M O'Reilly

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