Derry vs Donegal: Rory Gallagher – Gaelic football’s ultimate ‘outsider’

There are no Rory Gallagher posters on the walls of GAA purists’ homes.

To them, he is everything the GAA should not be. For them it’s all about their own club, their own county. The train home.

But Gallagher has played for two different counties – his hometown of Fermanagh and Cavan. He’s also managed three – Donegal, Fermanagh and Derry.

And he’s played club football in Dublin and Antrim to boot.

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All of this reinforces the impression that Gallagher is the ultimate underdog. And there’s no denying that he’s always had an outsider mentality and saw the world of football differently than others.

Fermanagh has never won an Ulster title but Gallagher grew up dreaming of making it and was convinced it was possible.

“Even when I was 13 or 14 I was thinking that we were going to win the All-Ireland. I was very naïve and didn’t think that would not happen with Fermanagh.”

When his team inevitably fell short, he didn’t hold back – and there were some managers who felt the heat of his tongue.

He had talent to burn – and still holds the Ulster Championship goalscoring record by scoring in a 3-9 win over Monaghan.

He won an All Ireland club title with St Gall’s of Belfast and a Leinster club with St Brigid’s of Dublin.

In fact, Gallagher enjoys the rare honor of being the subject of a closed-door Dublin County board meeting.

When he hit Brigid’s, Dublin was severely lacking at the top – especially when it came to free spins. At that meeting, the pros and cons of asking Gallagher to wear sky blue were discussed.

Gallagher is an underdog at Derry but he is on the verge of delivering the most memorable season in 24 years.

They have already taken the scalp of All Ireland Champion Tyrone and another Division One team in Monaghan. Tomorrow they face Donegal, a county governed by Gallagher – and he was assistant boss to Jim McGuinness when they won the All-Ireland 10 years ago.

“I probably see things differently. I never intended to live locally in Fermanagh and didn’t enjoy the ambition that existed in Fermanagh,” he said.

He brought that ambition to Derry, who have not won an Ulster title since 1998. Would that come before Donegal’s All-Ireland win over Gallagher considering he’s now number one?

“Definitely not. Winning an All-Ireland is where you want to be. I’m amazed when journalists ask questions like that,” he said.

“If you look at the Michael Jordan documentary, the players are number one, but it’s a collective effort – with players and management and the backroom.

“I would certainly think it would be great to win on Sunday, but to win an All-Ireland is a heck of a lot better.”

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and co-manager Rory Gallagher in 2012 at Donegal's homecoming after winning the All-Ireland.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and co-manager Rory Gallagher in 2012 at Donegal’s homecoming after winning the All-Ireland.

There would be personal satisfaction in beating Donegal though – as Gallagher had a bitter departure after a couple of years as manager – but that would be limited satisfaction.

“I would definitely not get more satisfaction from beating those Donegal players. There is no doubt that there were others – not the players – who made life difficult for us in Donegal,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have any real respect for them so it would be nice to beat them but it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all.”

Gallagher has always been a football fan.

Growing up, he traveled regularly to club championship games in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone – and also played in his hometown of Fermanagh.

Video analysis of his own team or future opponents has never been a burden as he enjoys watching football.

One wonders, however, what he makes of himself on the sidelines as he looks back at games.

A prominent former Intercounty executive described Gallagher as “the biggest takedown I’ve ever come across on the line.”

Gallagher is unusually animated in the GAA scene – like Jurgen Klopp on steroids.

Away from the pitch he’s a much calmer man, so does he recognize himself on match day?

“Unfortunately yes. It just is. If an opposition is raised by it, that’s their business,” he said.

Gallagher, like Brian Cody, has a habit of spitting on his palms and rubbing them together when engaged in a fight – a gesture quintessential to rural Ireland, but it’s another that strengthens some backs.

“Ah, it’s a personal choice. If you train as long as I do, you’ll be stamping on a few toes.”

Derry manager Rory Gallagher celebrates Ulster SFC's win over Monaghan.
Derry manager Rory Gallagher celebrates Ulster SFC’s win over Monaghan.

The empty stands during lockdown meant TV mics picked up Gallagher’s methods on the sidelines.

He’s very vocal. There is a constant stream of instructions and orders.

“I made the decision to train during the games. It’s very intense, all day long,” he said.

“It’s almost a contradiction in terms that you’re telling the guys to stay calm, make decisions calmly, but we also want to bring a wild amount of intensity to the day. But that intensity is controlled intensity.”

At one point, many believed in the idea that the ideal for manager Jim Gavin was as inscrutable as Buddha on the line.

That would never suit Gallagher’s personality.

“Everyone is different. I remember talking to Jim after we played Dublin in a challenge game against Fermanagh,” he said.

“I mentioned to him the hunger of his more experienced players in a nothing game at the end of January. He just said: ‘Well, my job is very different from yours’.

“So he had a different way of stimulating his players. He had fierce competition and they were coached and managed incredibly well. If you didn’t perform, he would recruit someone else to do it.

“We weren’t blessed with that, we’re not blessed with that in Derry, so we have to get the best out of our players.”

In last season’s league, Derry beat Fermanagh by 19 points and there was grumbling in his home district at Gallagher’s lively celebration of the Oak Leaf’s fourth goal of the day.

“I think I remember our fourth goal was actually a brilliant goal. If there was any celebration, it was for that,” he said.

“If you want the truth, there was one person at the time who spoke about changing the way Fermanagh was playing in my day. Maybe I had a private laugh.” An outsider’s laugh.

Continue reading:Derry vs Donegal: TV and live streaming info for Ulster Senior Final 2022

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