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Camaraderie in the dressing room is key behind Derry's Ulster Championship quest, claims manager Rory Gallagher

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Derry manager Rory Gallagher has helped create a great team spirit and togetherness in the panel which is producing results

Derry manager Rory Gallagher has helped create a great team spirit and togetherness in the panel which is producing results

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Seamus McEnaney

Seamus McEnaney

©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

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Derry manager Rory Gallagher has helped create a great team spirit and togetherness in the panel which is producing results

It had been said so many times about Derry that it became something of a trope, a handy get-out and an excuse when they performed poorly; that the club scene was so competitive, the county team could not gel.

As a coda to that theory, it has often been said too that the only time the county panel mended their ways was when Eamonn Coleman brought his personality to it — which conveniently coincides with the 1993 All-Ireland success.

Which is why it was a surprise to hear Oak Leaf captain Chrissy McKaigue say after their win over Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final: “When you have a manager (Rory Gallagher) and Ciaran Meenagh the assistant manager, those two men live and breathe Gaelic football.

“The videos they watch, the football talk they have...

“They are very smart men as well. They have brought an unbelievable camaraderie to a Derry jersey that, in the past, probably had been a wee bit fractured, let’s be honest. That is not the case now. There are boys who are best friends from different clubs, they are living out of each other’s pockets.

“It’s so refreshing to see. Don’t tell me it doesn’t translate onto the pitch; it does.”

Naturally, anyone would want to know the secret sauce that Gallagher has brought to change the culture around the camp.

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Boss Gallagher explained: “It’s not that the Derry players didn’t get on, there was no fractious, physical nature to training sessions that would have been down to bad blood in previous years.

“But they didn’t actually commit to each other either. I don’t know what it was. As a management team, and the players, we just felt that was an important part of us. You can’t build on tactics if you can’t build a togetherness.

“They both went parallel and they are both running smoothly.”

It has brought Derry to the Ulster semi-final. In the final waiting for them are Donegal, but first Monaghan await.

It’s worth noting that since Gallagher got involved with the Donegal panel in time for the 2011 season, he has been in seven Ulster semi-finals before now, winning six of them.

And when he prowls up and down the sideline, he might expect to hear the odd comment coming from the opposite dugout from Monaghan boss Seamus McEnaney.

Back in 2018, before Gallagher faced Monaghan as Fermanagh manager, McEnaney let something slip.

“Monaghan go in as favourites but they are coming up against a serious tactician in Rory Gallagher — he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the country,” ‘Banty’ said.

“I have known Rory a long time. When I started out and he was still playing, I used to pick his brains. He has a serious football brain.”

He added: “I know Rory Gallagher will be eating, sleeping and drinking this game and I know he will make it very difficult for Monaghan.

“I watched Fermanagh against Armagh and I was very impressed with their system of play and how they controlled that game.”

When McEnaney succeeded Malachy O’Rourke for his second spell as Monaghan manager at the end of 2019, he tried to lure Gallagher into his backroom team.

Instead, Gallagher went another way and joined up with Derry that winter.

The Oak Leafs lost out on promotion in the first year by losing the head-to-head game against Down when they both finished up on nine points.

They got up the following year and can count themselves very unfortunate in losing out on promotion to Division One this year, their free-taker Shane McGuigan being wrongly sent off against Roscommon just before a critical free-kick that would have won the game and given them promotion.

Few gave them a real chance against Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final, but they won by a whopping 11 points and made the rest of the nation sit up and pay attention.

“Honestly, we would feel we are nearly just into the very early stages of our second year, with the whole Covid break and the momentum being interrupted,” said Gallagher.

“But I suppose since we came back, we felt very intently about spending time together, getting to know each other and the whole group getting to know each other.

“And not just knowing each other, spending time together in training. Training together with a sense of purpose.”

The Derry management have a strong puritan ethic.

“We try to make training an attractive place to be,” revealed Gallagher.

“That’s where you spend most of your time together. It’s not as if we go mountain climbing or kayaking or all of that all the time. We don’t have tricks like that.

“We try to make our training base a place you want to be. Somewhere that you enjoy, that you will be challenged and we create a sense of purpose together. That’s what myself and the management try to do. The way we design training, the way I would like to train myself, that’s the way we do it.”

McEnaney still felt Monaghan would have too much for Fermanagh in 2018, adding that Monaghan just had: “Too many tools in the tool box for Fermanagh.”

Once bitten, twice shy.


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