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Donegal's 'Secret' Link

22nd Sep 2012

Let me take you back exactly four years to the day Tyrone won their third All Ireland Senior Football Championship. It was the 21st of September 2008 and at half-time Kerry led by a point, 0-8 to 0-7. 


More importantly, Tyrone were struggling to get into the game. Stevie O'Neill had already been sent in but it still wasn't happening for Mickey Harte's men. 


Back in the BBC television studio in Belfast, I was kinda worried too, for a different reason. The programme production team that year had brought in Rory Gallagher as a pundit and now they had put him into the studio for the first time. I'd presented a good few shows by then and I'd seen quite a few newcomers freeze under the bright TV lights.


I expressed my reservations but Katrina, who just happens to also be from Fermanagh, assured me that Rory would be grand. She was right. You would have thought Rory had been on the sofa with Martin and Jarlath for years. 


Better still, when we all got stuck into the half-time discussion, Rory asserted the opinion that Tyrone needed to bring in Kevin Hughes to 'knock a few bodies around' in the middle of the field. Sure enough, Hughes appeared for the start of the second-half and within a minute he had caused the mayhem which led directly to Tommy McGuigan's goal. At that point, I looked over at the new fella and thought to myself - 'you're good!'


The McHUGH CONNECTION


This is one reason why I wasn't surprised when Rory teamed up with Jim McGuinness in Donegal. The other reason is Rory's friendship with Martin McHugh. If you ever met Martin for a coffee or something stronger in Belfast, Gallagher would usually either make an appearance or he'd been on the phone at some point. Their working lives also crossed and there was clearly a level of respect for one another's reading of the game, even though McHugh is a fair bit older. 


Gallagher has actually only just turned 34 years-old but I've no doubt that his player awareness and tactical reading of games have been key to Donegal's progress to the 2012 All Ireland Final. It would be stretching matters to suggest that Martin McHugh has a direct line to the Donegal management because Gallagher is very much his own man, but it's also fair to presume that they discuss the ups and downs of the county team. 


Jim McGuinness is of course 'the Boss' but he was astute enough to recognise Gallagher's intelligence and independent thinking when they met only a few years ago. Jim found a gem who has been Donegal's best-kept secret in their incredible transformation from down-and-outs to being the most talked about team in the land. 

   
TALENTED PLAYER


Go back through Gallagher's career and you'll see a trail of talent and straight-talking. As a youngster, he had trials at Manchester United (where he played alongside Wes Brown) and Blackburn Rovers (where he roomed with Damien Duff).

 
He was top scorer in the Ulster SFC for three years in-a-row from 2000-02, which was a considerable achievement for a Fermanagh player. In 2002, Gallagher set a new Ulster SFC record by scoring 3-9 in one game against Monaghan.


He's won a Leinster SFC with St Brigid's and an All Ireland with St Galls, plus Sigerson glory with Sligo IT where the manager just happened to be one Martin McHugh. 


Yet Gallagher did not follow the traditional route. He left the Fermanagh panel after 2002, he was the subject of an extended debate in Dublin about accepting 'foreign' players, he later played for Cavan and even ended up back with Fermanagh. 


The return didn't go well. Gallagher was not impressed with the management team led by Donegal All Ireland winner Charlie Mulgrew and he told them so. 
"I didn't hold back. I told them that our preparation was a joke, in terms of training, discipline and analysing opposition. I didn't rate his man-management either'. 


STRAIGHT-TALKER


Clearly, Rory had his own ideas on how to prepare teams and he had every confidence in himself as a player and later as a Coach. 


"People would be constantly talking about Fermanagh having an inferiority complex. I certainly didn't have that. People and players would get sentimental about the idea of just reaching an Ulster Final or playing in Croke Park. I never got caught up in that idea. I thought it would be great to win an Ulster Final and win in Croke Park".


Gallagher has since won two Ulster Finals and has won in Croke Park, all with Donegal, but that's natural enough for someone who lives right on the border and who followed the great Donegal '92 team as a kid. And who knows, at this rate he might even get a statue down the road in Ballyshannon beside the one for the 'other' Rory Gallagher!


But that's not to deny Fermanagh their claim to an All Ireland winner, especially in the wake of the awful tragedy that has fallen on the family of Brian Og Maguire. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Rory Gallagher got to bring the cup going by the name of Maguire to their home in Lisnaskea. 

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