What a difference a year makes, eh?

Last summer, Donegal's TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Championship journey ended at the quarter-final stage at the hands of a Dublin team who were all-conquering winners of the four previous editions.

But last weekend, tables were truly turned and it's Donegal facing into a semi-final after beating the Dubs by six points in the scenic surroundings of Carrick-on-Shannon.

In between times, they had served notice of their progression when they edged Dublin in the league semi-final in the spring.

For stalwarts like Emer Gallagher, Donegal's rise to the occasion is particularly special. Due to a serious knee injury, the defensive lynchpin had to watch on from the sidelines of the 2021 quarter-final defeat and March's league semi-final victory.

But she was back and on hand to slot into the team in Leitrim's county town last Saturday on a momentous occasion that saw her join a select group of Donegal players to have made their 100th inter-county appearance.

But what has given the team the spark needed to overcome a side like Dublin after falling short in 2021?

"I think more than anything it's belief. Maybe in previous years, we've come into games against the likes of Dublin and maybe felt we had the game lost before it was even played," Gallagher tells RTÉ Sport at the launch of Lidl Ireland's 'County Pride’ campaign.

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"So I think playing against them and losing to them by such small margins has definitely given us the belief that we're well able to compete with these top teams in the country and there's definitely a hunger there.

"You learn a lot by losing matches and unfortunately we've had a lot to learn because we've lost some big games and I think that's really been a driving force for us coming into these other big games we've had to play this year as well.

"There's a great team spirit and all those driving factors are what has been getting us these results."

Former Donegal All-Ireland winner Mark McHugh's influence, after joining Maxi Curran's coaching set-up, has also proved beneficial.

"He offers a different perspective coming in from a hugely successful career himself within men's football and he has definitely offered us a breath of knowledge and tactics that we haven't been familiar with before," says Gallagher, who feels the team has reached a "new level" in training between Curran and McHugh's input.

They will need to go to the well and draw on all that belief and expertise quickly as there isn't much time to reflect on beating Dublin because reigning All-Ireland champions Meath await this Saturday at Croke Park with a place in the decider at stake.

Emer Gallagher says Donegal have been inspired by Meath's win last year

It was the Royal County that also helped fuel the belief of Donegal and other counties with their exploits last year when they went from being promoted to the top level before immediately winning the All-Ireland, overcoming traditional giants Cork and Dublin in the last-four and final respectively.

"I was very lucky to be in Croke Park last year doing commentary whenever Meath were playing Cork and very much like ourselves, everyone did have them written off coming into the last two minutes of the match but they were steadfast and they believed in their system and kept to their system," says Gallagher.

"For them to beat Cork and then to totally be in control against Dublin in the All-Ireland final and come out as All-Ireland champions, it really gave every other county the inspiration that you can do it.

"It's about being that unified group and taking a unified approach to every match. It definitely did give all the rest of the counties a massive push and you can see it this year.

'It's lovely going into a match being the underdogs against the All-Ireland champions'

"It's a wide open championship. We're going to have an All-Ireland semi-final with four teams that haven't been in it in recent years and that's really exciting. It's just left things in a fantastic position to be in but who knows what two teams can be there in the All-Ireland final, so everyone's going to be excited about what happens this weekend and the weeks to follow.

"Thanks to Meath, it's definitely given everyone else a kickstart that they needed."

While Donegal will carry belief with them at Croke Park, the underdog status is one they will be happy with going against the reigning champions.

"It's lovely going into a match being the underdogs against the All-Ireland champions because it does take that little bit of pressure off," says Gallagher, who adds that they are keen however not to let the opportunity pass them by.

"We're not looking at Meath or anything to do with their game, we're just focusing on us and I think that's been really successful so far whenever we've done that."

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