Tuesday 24 September 2019

'My plan is to make an impression with the senior team'

Big Interview: Cillian Gallagher

Cillian Gallagher putting in the hard yards at training. Photo: Sportsfile
Cillian Gallagher putting in the hard yards at training. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Bundee Aki may have dominated the midfield battle between Ireland and the All Blacks in the Aviva Stadium last Saturday but he's not Connacht's undisputed Fortnite champion just yet.

Fortnite is the online video game that has taken the gaming world by storm in the past year, and it's no different at the Sportsground. 

Cillian Gallagher battling Darren O’Shea of Munster in a lineout. Photo: Sportsfile
Cillian Gallagher battling Darren O’Shea of Munster in a lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

It's a tightly contested affair and there are plenty of contenders but young lock Cillian Gallagher, who likes to kick back and take on his team-mates online too, believes it's too close to call.

"Fortnite is the big one at the minute, everyone seems to love it on the team and most of us play it," says Gallagher.

"Bundee likes to think he is the Fortnite champion but Finlay Bealham is surprisingly good. Dominic Robertson-McCoy loves it and is never off it when he gets a chance.

"Eoghan Masterson is good too but ever since he broke his thumb he was on a sabbatical from it. There's lots of competition."

Gallagher didn't travel to South Africa with the 25-man Connacht squad this week, but he has returned from concussion and will be available when the province get back in action over the festive period.

Ireland's Connacht contingent will be back in Connacht colours too, minus the injured Kieran Marmion, but Gallagher knows the importance of those international players extending their contracts.

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This time last year Marmion signed until 2020, Roux added two years to his in October and Bealham also extended his soon after that. Gavin Thornbury will also be in Galway for two more years.

"I know Quinn Roux and Finlay Bealham are delighted themselves, Gavin Thornbury as well, he was involved in Ireland camp over the summer," says Gallagher.

"Having guys like that who are pushing on up above in camp like that, it's great to have them around the place here for us. As much as it's great to see Quinn and Gavin stay around, it's great for me to be able to learn off them for another extended period of time.

"It's something we definitely want to have. Other provinces have it and I know from speaking to other players my age at the other provinces, they speak about the older players playing for Ireland, how they have learned off them.

Learn

"The more Connacht players playing for Ireland the better for us. But definitely for us coming through to have those guys to look up to and learn off, it's just great."

Gallagher is still only 21 and the Sligo native, who can also play in the back-row, has only featured on six occasions in two seasons for the Connacht senior side.

He moved onto a senior deal at the beginning of the campaign and is still learning at this level. And with the example Roux has set again this season Gallagher doesn't need to look past the South African native for guidance, especially when it comes to his work in the set-piece.

"There is a lot more of an art to scrummaging. The front-rows always go on about how there is an art to the scrum and maybe it's the same for second-rows in that case," Gallagher says.

"Quinn has obviously got bulk on him but there are plenty of second rows just as big who aren't as good in the scrum. I don't know what it is but any front-row I have talked to that have played with him, they say that Quinn is great to have behind them.

"He has pushed on a lot this year and in other areas of his game too. His lineout calling, the way he deals with that and his leadership around the pitch, it helps your own game as well because he is such a calming influence."

Gallagher has plenty of bulk on him too and standing at 6ft 6ins he will be a big option for Andy Friend going forward.

'Crouchy', as he is also known, attended Summerhill College in Sligo alongside Connacht prop Conan O'Donnell and has seen the loosehead make a great impression in 2018-'19.

"There were injuries and the front-rows get that but Conan took his opportunity when he got it," says Gallagher.

"He is going really well so far and I hope he keeps going the same way. He has put a lot of work into it in the last year or so, so to see him pushing on and playing well it's enjoyable to watch and I am happy for him.

"Europe is definitely a competition, I know from Friendy's point of view, it's something we want to push on with this year.

"We want to challenge for honours and get into the latter stages, the same as the PRO14. But Europe is probably still a place people are hoping to get an opportunity. I would have loved to get more of an opportunity if injury didn't put a halt to the start of my year.

"But I know Colm de Buitléar, Conor Fitzgerald and Matthew Burke, those who have made their debuts and impressed in Sale, it's definitely a place for them to get their chance."

Gallagher could count himself unlucky not to have more minutes under his belt than the little over an hour he played against Glasgow Warriors on the opening day.

Aggravated

He aggravated a head knock in training and that put him on the back foot but he is back and ready to challenge for a place in this talented squad.

"Concussion is a bit more awkward than most injuries. With ankles and knees you can see them get better day by day sometimes. But this puts a bit more stress on you mentally for the most part you feel 100 per cent and you are just not there," he says.

"I felt I started the season quite well. Playing in all of our pre-season games and then getting an opportunity against Glasgow. I thought with one or two more 'A' games I might have got myself back in the team but when the concussion happened I couldn't.

"My plan is to get back now when I can, get another shot with the senior team and make an impression."

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