Friday 18 January 2019

Gallagher brings Fermanagh to the brink of history

Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Fermanagh may be the only county without an Ulster football title but four times in this decade the county's fingerprints were traceable on the Anglo-Celt Cup.

Malachy O'Rourke's appointment as Monaghan manager sparked a resurgence that led to 2013 and 2015 victories.

Before that Rory Gallagher was a very visible sidekick to Jim McGuinness for three of his four years in charge of Donegal and he was on hand for the first two of their three Ulster triumphs in that cycle.

Gallagher's relationship with his native county hasn't always been as smooth as it is now, on the cusp of Ulster glory in what is only their sixth final appearance.

As a player, Gallagher sometimes felt the county sold themselves short with their overall ambition and resourcing of the team.

At the 2012 media night, ahead of Donegal's All-Ireland final with Mayo, Gallagher delivered a telling response to a suggestion that, as a player, he'd like to have played for a county like Donegal, rather than one with such a small population like Fermanagh.

He didn't buy it though. "There is a lot of talk about Fermanagh having a small population but Nottingham Forest won two European Cups. Ajax won the Champions League. Greece won the European football championship with no tradition. Anything is possible if you work hard," he said.

Gallagher had always raged about small-mindedness when it came to Fermanagh and standards that fell short.

After scoring 3-9 against Monaghan in 2002, an individual Ulster championship record return, he removed himself from the squad for the subsequent two years as they reached an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final.

He briefly returned in 2005 but it wasn't until 2010 - he missed out on the Ulster final and replay against Armagh in 2008 - that he was back again, his final year. But the bottom fell out of Fermanagh and when John O'Neill was appointed manager, he didn't return.

Asked on that same night if he would ever envisage himself managing his native county, he mischievously replied, "next question!"

But five years later, having served as Donegal manager for three of them, his mind was being swayed by a group of players who he knew had something left to give, having observed them closely during his time with Donegal.

His acute knowledge of opponents, built up in six years of intense involvement, was put to good use against Monaghan - especially when they were able to strike late and deliver a famous victory.

Now the man who so often railed against dipping standards has driven them sufficiently to create another rare opportunity for his county.

Irish Independent

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