HE’LL likely have Conor McKenna at close quarters on Sunday, but Eoghan Ban Gallagher doesn’t have any regrets at not pursing his own Aussie Rules chances.
McKenna has lit a real spark under Tyrone since returning to the Red Hands in recent weeks after ending a six-year stint with AFL side Essendon.
McKenna has hit 3-4 in League games against Donegal and Mayo to announce his arrival firmly as a man for Tir Chonaill to shackle closely when they meet in the Ulster SFC on Sunday.
Gallagher is one who could be tasked with curbing McKenna’s involvement.
In 2017, the Killybegs man and Donegal team-mate Jason McGee spent a few weeks at Brisbane Lions on trio.
I don’t think it would ever have been for me,” he said.
“I really enjoyed my time over there, but I was never really close. I see Conor said one of the biggest reasons for him coming home was homesickness.
“Even over the two-and-a-half to three weeks that we were out there, I was calling home every day.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of fellas to get and I completely understand why they go, but I was never really close to going out.”
Even though his heart was never set on a switch Down Under, Gallagher used the trial to get an insight into the AFL’s workings.
He said: “It was very interesting in terms of the gym side of it, from what I saw they seemed to do a lot similar to the GAA. Obviously they have extra time so they do get in extra gym sessions through the week, but in terms of what they do it’s very similar to ourselves.
“The one thing I was surprised about is the amount of things that are very similar to the GAA. Obviously the tackle’s different, the actual skills are different, but the game drills they do are very similar to the GAA.
“It was very enjoyable and a great learning opportunity to go out there and see a professional setup.”
McKenna’s directness is something that could pose a real test of Donegal’s ability to retain a hold of the Ulster title.
Gallagher is well accustomed to players with a direct instinct, though.
He said: “We’re lucky enough in Donegal that we have a number of very direct players ourselves, with Ryan [McHugh], Jamie Brennan, Michael [Murphy], they’d be all fairly direct and we’d get good practice against them in training.
“It’s the best way to get used to defending against players that are very direct. Conor’s been excellent since he came back, he’s taken to it very quickly and I think he’s surprised a lot of people.”
Gallagher was an All-Star nominee in 2018 and was in flying form in 2019 until he shattered his ankle in training just days before Donegal faced Kerry in the Super 8s.
At a talk in Letterkenny last winter, Gallagher became visibly emotional when he talked about the impact the injury had on him.
“I didn’t deal with it well at all and I wasn’t in a good place,” he told an audience at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. “I was kind of lonely at home. It was tough mentally rather than physically.”
The crowd at the ‘Youth Matters’ conference, which also featured professional boxer Jason Quigley, gave him a standing ovation.
Gallagher recovered in time to line out in the early stages of this year’s League, but used the Covid-19 lockdown to refine his game again.
He said: “It was really difficult. Fortunately enough I’ve great support at home and a lot of the players came to see me. It was a huge mental test.
“I remember going back, the club were playing league games before the championship and I didn’t actually feel like I could go up to watch the games or go to training. I felt like I let my team-mates down, being injured. I missed it a wee bit too much, that I didn’t feel like I could go.
“This year it’s been a different challenge mentally. It’s going back to when I was 13 or 14 and doing athletics training, and it’s a battle with yourself just. You have nobody there to push you on – it’s just whatever you’re going to do yourself.
“The amount of respect we’ve gained for every athlete who does individual things, in terms of tennis, athletics, the mental strength they have individually is phenomenal.
“Declan (Bonner) showed good faith in me to keep me in playing games, but I felt I had a lot of work to do myself over the period of lockdown, just to get a few wee things and niggles right and come back stronger.
“I definitely had a lot of things to work on and I’m happy with the way I used the time.”Tags: