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Wanderer Gallagher making sweet music in Donegal

By Declan Bogue

Joe Brolly tells a story of being up at Glenswilly's trophy presentation last winter. The club of Michael Murphy had won their first county title and it seemed the entire parish was partying like it was the last night on earth.

Apart from Murphy and Neil Gallagher, who sipped water all night.

They had Donegal training the next day, not a place for a man with porter in his guts. Brolly asked Murphy if he could develop his left foot, therefore becoming even more unmarkable.

Murphy said that project was already under way, with a few trips a week to the pitch to practice his kicking with Jim McGuinness' assistant, Rory Gallagher.

Even during the off-season, Gallagher couldn't drag himself away from the pitch.

As a player, Gallagher believed completely in the wisdom of deliberate practice.

His brother, the current Fermanagh goalkeeper Ronan, said the best piece of advice he ever got in his career came at the start, when Rory told him to never, ever drop out of training, no matter how tough it got.

It was a natural progression that he would end up coaching, but still it came as a surprise when he materialised on a Donegal training field.

Once he accepted an invitation from Jim McGuinness though, it brought an end to his playing career and a start to his coaching one.

As a young man, Gallagher shared a lift to Fermanagh training with his cousin Raymond, who looks back now and recalls the almost nerd-like attention to detail they had to the game.

“Some players played county football and wouldn't have thought about who they were playing, who they might be potentially marking, who plays in

what position, what club they come from,” he said.

“Rory would have been the same as myself, we would have been the opposite of that; of football matches, recalling games, scorelines, who was scoring, who was sent off, who was marking who.

“We were brought up with that. Football was the main thing in our lives and that was the only thing we had any interest in!

“Other boys had their schoolwork and whatever else, ours was football and football.”

As a heads-up forward, he was a rarity in Fermanagh football.

In his youthful exuberance he was also given to demand plenty from his team-mates, an approach that rubbed a few people up the wrong way.

In recent years, he found perhaps the natural fit for his style of football when he joined St Gall's, a club rooted in sevens-type play, surrounded by other players not afraid to express themselves on the ball.

In manager Lenny Harbinson, he met a man who he could relate to.

“I absolutely have the highest regard for Rory Gallagher,” says Harbinson now. “The three years that I dealt with him within St Gall's circles, he was a gentleman and a joy to work with.

“Once I got to know him better in year two, and certainly in year three [2011] which was my last year and

Rory's last year, we would have talked on a regular basis about tactics and how football should be played.

“It was very obvious from an early stage that he had lots of great ideas. He is very knowledgeable and thought-provoking.

“It doesn't surprise me at all what Donegal, with Jim McGuinness (pictured) and Rory there have achieved.

“People who don't know Rory might underestimate his contribution, but it's a combination of Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher.”

Harbinson points to the development of Michael Murphy, and the maturing of Patrick McBrearty as a pivotal player. Many of the things they do right, are the same things that Gallagher possessed quality in.

“Being a forward himself, he can definitely help those two players because McBrearty is only 19 now, and Murphy is only in his early 20s.

“His experience, having played at county level and a number of different counties he would have picked up different ideas and whatever else.

“There's no doubting his influence.”

It hasn't been all easy for Donegal though.

In order to take them on the journey they have gone, the two men on the sideline have taken enormous flak in the media. It's not something that would bother Gallagher though, claims Raymond.

“He's played for a few different clubs in different counties and people have their own opinion on that, but if for one minute it bothered Rory he would called somebody up and asked them about it.

“Rory is like that, he's his own man and makes his own decisions.

“Fair enough, he might not always be right, but he makes them with his own convictions and sticks by them.”

Donegal have gone their own way.

No let's see them take it one step further.

Belfast Telegraph

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