By Frank Craig
EOGHAN Bán Gallagher hopes that the tightening up of the intercounty season becomes a permanent rejig going forward.
The Covid-19 pandemic means that the GAA – for the second year in-a-row – has had to tailor their championship to suit. The NFL has also been reshuffled in 2021 to fit the narrow playing window on offer.
And while there are some tweaks he’d like to see added down the line, Gallagher is a fan of the new formula.
“I’m a big supporter of the shortened season,” he told Gaelic Life. “I think playing more games in a shorter period of time is more enjoyable. It generates great interest and you feel the buzz.
“I remember my first year in the senior squad, there were four weeks between most Ulster Championship games. That’s needless and far too long. If you pick up a knock there probably is sufficient time to get back. That’s the one upside. But if you were playing a game every week that would almost act as your heavy training session. I’m not sure about the S&C, that would need to be factored in somewhere.
“The rest of the time, that would be used to focus on the tactical side of things and skills. You’d be able to tick over during the week.”
He added: “In 2017, when we were playing the National League with the u-21s in the middle of the week, I was playing Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday.
“I always say that was the most enjoyable time I’ve had in football. Rory Gallagher and Declan (Bonner) both came to an agreement that I wouldn’t do any training.
“I would just sit in on the tactical sessions with both squads. It was just football. It was brilliant.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher says there is no time to be wasted as Donegal prepare for their first NFL Division One North tussle away to Tyrone on May 15.
Bonner’s squad got back down to business last week for the first time collectively since their shock Ulster final loss to Cavan last November.
Donegal are also looking forward to league clashes with Monaghan at home, as well as another away trip to Armagh.
The bigger picture to all of that is, of course, their preliminary provincial Championship opener in Newry, against Down, at the end of June. Just like last term, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the GAA calendar.
Killybegs clubman Gallagher said it is going to be a fiercely challenging fixtures list with very little breathing space between games.
But it’s a test Donegal are really looking forward to. Gallagher explains that the onus really was on the players, individually, to have banked as much conditioning work as possible prior to getting back together last week.
That, he says, should mean they are allowed to concentrate a little more on the football side of things over the next four weeks.
Because of the lay-off – and the short turnaround to games – he insists that every second of that ball work will have to be made count.
“I’d been ticking along, like the rest of the lads, as you didn’t really know how the thing was going to pan out,” he explains.
“And as it got closer to the time, or it looked like we were going to get back, I ramped it up.
“Luckily, myself and Hugh McFadden were able to batter away together. We share a house in Donegal Town. You have that bit of company. It’s a small thing but it was a big help.
“It was similar to last year, getting back. There was just butterflies of excitement. I really mean that. Meeting up with the group, the good weather, it was a really nice feeling.”
The squad and backroom team kept in touch with each other remotely over the course of the last number of months.
And Gallagher said that the mindset now of an intercounty footballer, and the demands and expectations they place on themselves, that no one was ever going to be coming back into the group fold short of the required standard or level.
“No, it wasn’t really a case of looking around and seeing how much anyone else had done. Everyone in the squad has a trust in each other that we were all going to come back at a certain level.
“It’s up to the backroom team now to gauge all of that. There isn’t that much time until the start of the League. We were all aware of the fact that the turnaround would be quick.
“But there is a freshness and excitement there as well for that. There isn’t much time to work on pure fitness.
“We need to get our ball skills and familiarity to all of that going.
“Teams will want to be working on the tactical side of things too in between.
“That’s why it was important to ramp things up a little on our own steam before we got back together.”