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Gallaghers divided as Ulster battle heats up

Former Fermanagh star Ronan believes his old side can give brother Rory's Donegal team a major headache in quarter-final showdown.

By Declan Bogue

Published 11/06/2016

Split loyalties: Former Fermanagh player Ronan Gallagher pictured at home in Armagh with his wife Catherine and children Joe (4), Grainne (5), Shay (1) and Micheal (7 months)
Split loyalties: Former Fermanagh player Ronan Gallagher pictured at home in Armagh with his wife Catherine and children Joe (4), Grainne (5), Shay (1) and Micheal (7 months)

Ask Ronan Gallagher if he thought his brother Rory was always going to be a coach and he brings up the story of the Belleek Erne Gaels Under-16 side he played on and won a Fermanagh 'B' Championship with.

Rory was just over the age limit, so instead he managed the team. "Calling the shots," as Ronan puts it.

Twenty years on, the brothers find themselves on either side of tomorrow's Ulster Championship quarter-final in Ballybofey - Ronan rooting for Fermanagh, Rory wearing the 'Bainisteoir' tracksuit top as manager of Donegal.

Growing up, the two boys would spend summers at their uncle Raymond's farm on the Kesh Road. There, cousin Raymond jnr and Rory would thump the ball at each other, then at Ronan in goals for hours.

As the three sprouted, they could see no reason why they wouldn't be successful on the pitch. In 1992, Raymond won a MacRory Cup title and Rory was the main man for St Michael's College's Corn na nÓg win. A few months later, they all hopped across the border to line the streets of Bundoran for the Donegal All-Ireland homecoming celebrations.

By 14, Rory was already corner-back on the county minor team. Two years later, he was playing senior county football. At 25, he had a lifetime of football played and pulled the plug on his county career. He contented himself with winning Dublin county titles, pulling the strings from centre forward for St Brigid's, still feeding the bullets for cousin Raymond in the corner to fire.

The season after Rory (right) withdrew, Raymond was Fermanagh captain and Ronan was in goal. They played at Croke Park twice in 2003. They came back in 2004 and beat Donegal (again), Cork, Meath (again) and Armagh. They came within seconds of an All-Ireland final. One question that many still ask is what those teams, and the Ulster final side of 2008, might have done with Rory involved.

"It's easy to say if he had have been about we would have done this, that and the other. But I don't think us not winning an Ulster title was down to not having Rory," Ronan says.

"The other thing to think about is the group dynamic, who is to say?"

In 2010, an All-Ireland title in the blue of Belfast club St Gall's arrived for both of them as an unexpected surprise. Ronan had been with the Milltown men for years when Rory's work in recruitment took him to Belfast.

Together, they overwhelmed Clare's Kilmurry-Ibrickane in the St Patrick's Day club final of 2010.

"It was something to savour, for our family too. For the club of St Gall's, it was fantastic," Ronan recalls, before revealing: "Rory hung me out to dry the following night. He went on down to Fermanagh training and I wasn't at it.

"If the shoe had have been on the other foot, I would never have heard the end of it."

That Sunday, both Gallaghers were in the Fermanagh line-up that lost to Wexford. Rory scored five frees but missed a penalty. A neat microcosm of his career in emerald green.

Rory was gone by the end of the year and Ronan hung on until 2014. He is quick to note that it wasn't any sense of 'indentured slavery' that forced him out, though.

"You would still laugh when you hear people talking about increased demands and all of that. I think it's nonsense. The fellas who are playing county football now know how privileged they are and they love doing it," he says.

"Now, for example, whenever I drive down to Enniskillen I find it a long journey. When you were playing football, you never even thought of the road in front of you, you were just preparing for training all day, sipping water. It is an amazing thing to be involved in."

Anyway, he has plenty to keep himself busy with. Despite his relative youth, he is principal of Knocknagin Primary School just outside Desertmartin village in Derry, commuting from his home in Armagh.

He and wife Catherine have four children now; Grainne (5), Joe (4), Shay (1) and little Micheál is seven months old. And, of course, he is a football manager, looking after Madden as they sit one point off the top of the Armagh senior football league.

Even with all that on his plate, he likes what he sees in this Fermanagh team.

"For me, the first thing about it is that they are serious about their football," he adds.

"When you watch that Fermanagh team, there is a serious likeability factor about them - the workrate, their energy. They are talented."

And how far does he think they can push his big brother's side on their own turf? He answers diplomatically: "I know one thing - Fermanagh will go to Ballybofey with no hang-ups and no concerns. I think the Championship is going to come alive this weekend and it is going to be a real fire and brimstone match."

Here's hoping.

Belfast Telegraph

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