Sunday 18 March 2018

Rory Gallagher braced for 'familiar' Monaghan examination

Rory Gallagher (pictured) anticipates a defensive strategy from Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan on Sunday
Rory Gallagher (pictured) anticipates a defensive strategy from Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan on Sunday

Orla Bannon

Like an old married couple simmering over the latest domestic spat, Donegal and Monaghan must wrestle with the over-familiarity problem before asserting who wins this particular argument.

There will be no secret weapons to be unleashed, no surprise game-plans to bamboozle unsuspecting management teams, when they face each other for the third year in a row in Sunday's Ulster SFC final at Clones.

The players must be sick of the sight of one other and if there are scores to be settled from previous squabbles, they will hopefully be setted early, to free the teams to go about the business of establishing who is top dog in Ulster.

Rory Gallagher is as smart as they come, but he accepts it will be quite a challenge to come up with something which might catch their opponents off guard.

"That's going to be difficult," he said. "Both teams know each other exceptionally well.

"There's three finals and we'd have played maybe three times in the league in the last 18 months as well. That's a huge amount of games against each other.

"In regards to playing personnel, I don't think there's anything that can be thrown new. Whatever tactics come up on the day might be slightly new, and I'm not sure what Monaghan will do, from that point of view.


"But there's no secrets, really. Both sets of players know each other very, very well."

The awful league game between them earlier this year in Letterkenny, when Donegal slumped to a 1-4 to 0-9 defeat, with a Michael Murphy fisted goal their only score of the second half, won't be remembered with any fondness by either camp.

A bad day got even worse when Gallagher, then in his very early days as Donegal manager, got back to his shop in Killybegs to be told a few home truths by a 'supporter'.

"Some... gentleman ... had a go at me. That's what happens. It was just outside the shop. Those things happen.

"It was a very disappointing display and a very intense atmosphere. We should have risen to the challenge but Monaghan didn't play overly well either."

Gallagher anticipates a similar defensive strategy from Malachy O'Rourke's team on Sunday.

"We expect them to come with a fairly familiar template. They played a very similar style of football against Dublin in the league semi-final and Dublin only beat them by a point.

"Dublin dealt with it better from an attacking view than we did.

"I would stress that fitness levels and weather conditions played a huge part in it, and it was very early in the year for us, but hopefully we can handle it better on this occasion."

Both teams feature a number of players contesting at least a fifth provincial decider, who know the amount of big games they still have in the locker is finite.

Paul Finlay, Dessie Mone, Dick Clerkin, Owen Lennon, Vinny Corey, Conor McManus and Stephen Gallogly are veterans of Monaghan's defeats to Tyrone in 2007 and 2010 - before the 'new' team evolved to beat Donegal in the 2013 final and then lost to them 12 months ago.

Although Donegal are appearing in their fifth successive final, they still have a few survivors from the 2004 and 2006 defeats by Armagh, like Christy Toye, Neil Gallagher, Eamon McGee, Paul Durcan and Karl Lacey.

"I think that's something we're very much aware of," Gallagher admitted.

"We've been very consistent in the Ulster Championship over the last number of years and everybody wants to make the most out of the period they're in.

"It's no different than us and Monaghan now. We both see it as a golden period in all our careers. There's a lot at stake. It's a big prize up here, the Ulster Championship."

The fact Gallagher and O'Rourke played together for Fermanagh in 1996/'97 under former Meath footballer Terry Ferguson is an interesting angle in the build-up to the game. The fact that O'Rourke also managed Gallagher in 2009, having not selected him the previous year when he led Fermanagh to an Ulster final (which they lost to Armagh after a replay), adds another layer of intrigue, but Gallagher isn't interested in such sideshows.

Gallagher, who made his senior debut at 17, remembers himself and his cousin Raymond as the "cheeky chaps" alongside their older team-mate.

"Malachy has a good personality, he's very witty. We'd have seen that he was very dedicated as well.

"I remember seeing him training on his own at the Lakeland Forum (in Enniskillen), practising his frees.

"While he was quiet - he wouldn't have been a big talker back then - from a playing perspective, he was exceptionally committed.

"I've watched him from afar and he's had great success but he'll be very much aware it's all about Monaghan and Donegal on Sunday."

Irish Independent

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