Donegal are already in must-win territory

Emmet Ryan looks ahead to their game against Roscommon in Division One

BY Emmet Ryan 14:20 Friday 10 February 2017, 14:20 10 Feb 2017

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

A steep learning curve was expected for the new look Donegal but nobody quite expected the disaster that happened last weekend against Kerry.

While the final score only left a goal between the sides, the performance of Rory Gallagher's defence showed just how much learning is left to do between now and the business end of the season.

On the upside, Donegal left Kerry scoreless through the final 10 minutes and change. The downside was this side gave up 19 scores in the opening 60 minutes. That's worrying when conditions are ideal. In February, it's an absolute disaster.

Paul Geaney's personal haul of 2-4 tells the broadest story of what Donegal need to change up going into this weekend's clash with Roscommon. Geaney was able to get isolation situations or flat out open repeatedly against a defence built on a history of getting support defenders in place in time.

Kerry's Paul Geaney scores his second goal. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

With a rake of switches happening both through injuries and retirement, Gallagher has been forced to shuffle far more than he would like but the sprint nature of the league leaves him little time to adapt. There is a solid corps coming through from the under 21 ranks to blend with his veteran line-up but the look here is almost a need to reset to 2011.

For those with duller memories, there was a miserable day in May where Donegal ripped Antrim asunder by playing defence first football. It was the beginning of a season of criticism for a side which was slated broadly despite the genius within. Their semi-final clash with Dublin, a 0-8 to 0-6 defeat, remains a front runner for match of the decade but was slammed as anti-football at the time.

That was a season with a hard reset, after a more open Donegal side had suffered against more physical opposition. The game against Roscommon present Gallagher with a chance to start implementing the tweaks he needs. Building from the back, re-ordering and re-imagining how Donegal defend, has to be at the heart of what his side does. It's from there that the side that eventually won Sam in 2012 was built, and it resulted in one of the most effective attacks in living memory.

Donegal's Patrick McBrearty. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

The Rossies are reeling after being taken apart with ease by Tyrone last weekend. All signs that this is more of a reload than rebuild year for Mickey Harte look accurate and Kevin McStay's charges will be keen to rebound fast.

For Gallagher, the result here is crucial. Retaining Division 1 status really does matter these days and a loss against Roscommon would immediately install Donegal as favourites for the drop. Fundamentally, it's about Gallagher's end game this season. Nothing is won in February but a couple of poor results can set back plans quickly and make it harder for Gallagher to reshape his side.

Time is the enemy. A win against Roscommon buys Donegal some and that's the objective here. Having played shut-down football down the stretch against Kerry, look for Donegal to open with a heavy focus on defence from the off in this one with tweaks coming throughout the game as Gallagher seeks to open up room for his forwards.

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