Ulster SFC Final: Leo McLoone could feature says Rory Gallagher

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher is not surprised to see Monaghan in another Ulster Final
Ulster Senior Football Championship Final: Donegal v Monaghan
Date: Sunday, 19 July Venue: St Tiernach's Park, Clones Throw-in: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC TWO NI from 13:30 and Radio Ulster MW and the BBC sport website

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher says Leo McLoone could play a part in Sunday's Ulster Football final against Monaghan despite only returning to the squad in the last fortnight.

The Glenties club-man missed this year's Football League and Donegal's first three championship games after opting to take a break from the squad.

However, Gallagher says that McLoone, 25, has looked sharp since his return.

"We expect Leo to be in our match-day squad," Gallagher told BBC Sport.

"The signs are that Leo is going very well in training.

"He's got a vast amount of experience. He can run with the ball and he gives us great flexibility.

Ulster SFC Final: Gallagher on playing days with O'Rourke

"He can play in the forward line in any of the six positions or he can play in the half-back line.

"That's a great option for us to have."

Gallagher added the McLoone's contribution to Donegal football in recent seasons means that he has been welcomed back into the panel with open arms.

"We know that everybody's circumstances can change and I kept him touch with him regularly during his absence and always made it clear that he would be welcomed back as soon as he was ready."

Donegal and Monaghan are preparing for their third successive Ulster Final meeting after the Tir Chonaill men last year avenged their 2013 provincial decider defeat by the Farney County.

Gallagher, now in charge of Donegal after succeeding Jim McGuinness last autumn, is not remotely surprised by Monaghan's progression to another Ulster Final.

"If we were lucky enough to get through our side of the draw, we always felt it would be Monaghan on the other side," added the Donegal boss.

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke
Malachy O'Rourke and Rory Gallagher were Fermanagh team-mates in the mid-1990s

"True to form, they have held up their end very well.

"They had a bit of a scare against Cavan but it was probably a good way for them to come through that game.

"They then dealt with Fermanagh quite comfortably in the last 10 or 15 minutes."

Gallagher's Donegal side misfired somewhat in their provincial semi-final before edging past Derry but one senses that the manager is not overly upset that they didn't produce their best against the Oak Leafers.

"We would have preferred to play a lot better against Derry but huge credit to them for making life difficult for us.

"We were delighted to have won and while it was difficult against Derry, they were never in front of us.

"I thought we always had reasonable control of the game without being at our best and we missed a lot of chances."

With Malachy O'Rourke in charge of the Farney men, Sunday's game will see two former Fermanagh team-mates pitting their managerial wits against each other.

"Myself and my cousin Raymond would have had a bit of craic with Malachy because there was a very funny side to him," recalls the Donegal boss, who was part of the same Fermanagh squad as O'Rourke in the mid-1990s.

Leo McLoone battles with Monaghan's Dessie Mone in last year's Ulster Final
Rory Gallagher says Leo McLoone's versatility is a great boost to the Donegal squad

"He only stayed on for a year and a half after I joined but it's great to see what Malachy has gone on to achieve in management.

"He was very committed. He would have been known for doing extra training session himself and he was one of the fittest players in the team.

"He wouldn't have been overly vocal but you would have seen the leadership qualities in him."

As for Sunday's game, Gallagher is anticipating a tight contest.

"I don't see there being much in it.

"Monaghan brought a great level on intensity to the occasion in 2013 and Donegal brought a greater level last year.

"That's a big part of it. Whoever can bring that huge level of intensity and discipline as well."