It took Rory Gallagher a couple of weeks to go back and watch a re-run of last year’s Ulster final defeat to Donegal - and it just re-affirmed his original thoughts on the game, that his side simply didn’t compete on the day.

And he knows that they must be much more competitive than they were that day in Clones if they are to give themselves a chance of taking the scalp of the Ulster champions in Brewster Park on Sunday.

“The easy thing to say was physically they were far better than us but we just didn’t compete,” said Gallagher. “People said our style of football was dead, they are entitled to their opinion, but we didn’t feel we brought any style of football. We didn’t feel we brought the competitive edge that we brought throughout the year and in the first two championship matches but that’s not taking away from other teams, they were both brilliant on the day, but that’s our take on it. We weren’t good enough ultimately and that’s the challenge for us now, can be bring it against Donegal this year.”

Overall, though, 2018 had to be counted as one of massive progress for Fermanagh and for Gallagher, the important thing moving into 2019 was to build on the work they had done.

And they did that as they competed at the top end of the table in Division Two, securing wins over the likes of Kildare and Donegal which put them within touching distance of promotion before faltering in their final two games against Armagh and Meath which cost them promotion.

“It’s well-documented we put a huge investment in time into the first year. That was as much for us to get a feel for them and a few boys, to be fair to them, might have let themselves go too far.

“But this year has been pleasing. We haven’t put in anything like the same amount of time and preparation into pre-season. The players looked after themselves and acquitted themselves well. They showed that Division Two was relatively trouble-free in terms of staying up.

“They were anxious to push on, to play at as high a level as possible and there’s probably disappointment in not getting to Division One when it was in our own hands. We would be very disappointed in our display against Armagh, it was the one game we just didn’t show up and didn’t play with enough bravery.

“We fell flat that day and it left it too much of an uphill struggle against Meath.

“We have to learn but if we were told we would survive fairly handy in Division Two, you would have taken that. It shows the players the potential they have,” he added.

However, while the league is a great competition and very competitive, for Gallagher it is all about championship.

“The league is great and over the last seven, eight years it has become fantastic. Teams are at a very close level and it is played at a serious pace, the quality of the pitches has come up, increasing levels of fitness in the players.

“But when you sign up at the start of the year, it is not to play in the National League. It is all preparation for being better when you go into the Championship. Player’s reputations, counties’ reputations are built on your performances in the Championship.

“We achieved a fair bit in it last year, but the finish of it was deflating. But if we can get to the levels we reached in beating Armagh and Monaghan, we would be well capable of beating anybody,” he said.

Gallagher is very aware though that his side are going to have to be much more clinical with their chances if they are to progress in the championship. Certainly, the side have been creating more chances this season but that old problem of not taking them has still been evident.

“Against Armagh last year we probably kicked very few wides and against Monaghan we got off to a great start but we weren’t creating enough chances after that. I think this year, we have been creating many but just not scoring them and it is crucial to be able to get the ball over the bar at critical times,” said the Fermanagh boss.

In that regard, Gallagher will be pleased with the club form of Sean Quigley who scored heavily for Roslea in the early stages of the league and while it might not be up against the same quality of opposition he will face when Donegal come to Brewster Park on Sunday, it does players no harm confidence wise to be performing well for the clubs.

“I have always said, when they are playing for their clubs to go out and absolutely empty themselves into it and enjoy it. There is a feelgood factor out of playing well and winning.

“And you see them coming in with a spring in their step, particularly the forwards if they shoot the lights out.”

The end of the league also saw Gallagher downsize his panel with a number of injured players released and no others added in.

“Look, there were various players carrying knocks, various players knew the pecking order. It came to a natural end on both sides.

“Then there were the young players from St Michael’s and they have exams and one thing and another. At then end of the day we want to go with the players that we feel are capable of winning Ulster Championship matches this year, at this point in time.

“We have invested 18, 19 months in this group and we know the players we have are ready for it. I just felt it was time to go with it,” he explained.

So, it is on to Donegal. After a slow start that included defeat to Fermanagh, Declan Bonner’s side clinched promotion to Division One and their turnaround in form coincided with the return of key man Michael Murphy. Having managed Donegal, Gallagher doesn’t need to be told of the importance of the Donegal captain.

“Michael’s return is immeasurable. I think never have Donegal relied on him as much as now and they have said that plenty of times over the last five years in particular. I would say too that he is delighted to be playing in a re-energised forward line. Michael Langan has come into his own, Jamie Brennan has come into his own, Niall O’Donnell, Jason Magee in the middle of the field, Hugh McFadden, Eoghan Ban. He is playing with really pacy players and he is enjoying it. He is a massive leader for them as well and he is a player that we are going to have to make sure has a fairly quiet influence,” he said.

However, while he is acutely aware of the threats of the Tir Connail men, Gallagher is keen to not get too caught up worrying about the opposition and instead concentrate more on his own team.

“We just need to make sure we learn from last year. Maybe last year you are so keen going into the final that you are over analysing Donegal, maybe you are so keen that the players know everything that it takes away from the intensity and the bite of our training, looking back on it. Now, we are just going to focus on ourselves, everything from here on in is about ourselves. The boys know Donegal inside out, they know their players, the style of play that Donegal are going to bring. We are just concentrating on ourselves and having the bite, the intensity and the competitiveness because we didn’t have that last year.”

And if they can do that then Gallagher is confident that they can get a result on Sunday.

“Absolutely. We need to bring what we feel we are good at. We need to bring our hunger and desire which we fell short on last year.Throughout the National League we were more than a force for anybody, and in the championship last year we were good enough to beat Armagh and Monaghan so there is no reason why if you bring it you can’t bring Donegal to the wire,” he concluded.