He cuts an animated figure on the sideline, but Rory Gallagher is calm ahead of the All-Ireland semi-final. Katrina Brennan reports…
“You gotta roll with it, you gotta take your time, you gotta say what you say, don’t let anybody get in your way.”
The famous Oasis lyrics sprung to mind when I asked Rory Gallagher about the hype and hysteria surrounding his Derry team as they prepare for this weekend’s All Ireland semi-final against Galway.
You just “roll with it,” said Gallagher, adding; “there’s been hype since we beat Tyrone and it’s been growing and growing.
“We’ll just do what we’ve always done, go to training and prepare. Whatever they do in their own lives is their own business.
“I’d certainly be just encouraging the boys to not be doing anything different, just enjoy themselves but the most important thing they do from our point of view is that they train well, they prepare well and they commit to each other well and that’s going to stay the same fundamentals of what we’ve done all year and what we’ve done really well the last 18 months.
“Let them enjoy it with their families and their friends. It’s something every GAA community in Derry should be enjoying and their families and friends are an extension of that.”
The Derry manager sounds remarkably calm, a contrast to how he sometimes expresses himself on the sideline, something the father of three acknowledges himself;
“When you’re involved, obviously you’re on the sideline, you behave in different manners, and you’re ready for battle on the day.”
But for all the shouting, roaring and spitting, Gallagher sounds super calm with such a huge game around the corner, but that calmness comes with being prepared, says the 43-year-old Belleek man;
“I would’ve always been pretty relaxed. When you’re involved in the coaching and management side, when you’ve trained and prepared really well and at a very high level. Everybody can give the time and commitment, to be honest, there’s too much made of that.
“When you’ve trained in a very smart, collective fashion, you can be relaxed in your preparation. It doesn’t mean you’re not nervous and you’re not apprehensive of what’s going to come down the road but you know the group of players that you’re involved with are going to give absolutely everything.”
There’s no denying these Derry boys are playing for Gallagher. A longstanding problem in the Oak Leaf county has been their ability to get players to give it their all for the county. Club has been the priority for players for the last 20 years or more, but since Gallagher took charge he has been a breath of fresh air. His tactical astuteness is up there with the best in the country and he has found the final piece of the jigsaw it seems; togetherness.
On Derry’s way to claiming their first Ulster title in 24 years, they beat last year’s All Ireland champions Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal. No easy route, no simple task. Also, bear in mind, that they hadn’t won an Ulster Championship match since 2015.
Now they’re one game away from an All Ireland final. Pádraic Joyce’s Galway stands between Derry and their first All Ireland final since 1993. What some people might not know is that the two men go way back, not only on the pitch but off it too.
In the early noughties, Joyce and Gallagher worked together recruiting labour for the construction sector. The too still work in similar roles now but as rivals, laughs Gallagher;
“We’re slightly rivals at the minute, but sure it’s all healthy as well,” says the 3D employee. “ Actually, John Divilly that helps him (Joyce) out worked with us and the ironic thing is, Kieran McGeeney as well, we all used to work together. In the boom years and maybe sometimes the boom craic years too for us all,” he laughs.
When I pointed out to him that Joyce is a fan of the old spitting on his hands too, Gallagher laughed out loud, saying;
“I didn’t realise he was! We’ve always stayed good friends and socialised together, so maybe we share an odd habit together! Maybe that’s just the old-school way of getting ready for a game on a dry day.”
Joyce may do it the odd time but it’s a Gallagher trademark at this stage and the habit crept in way back in his days playing football at St Michael’s, under the then coach, Peter McGinnity.
“That’s the way he encouraged us, when we were at St Michael’s on a dry day he didn’t want to see us wearing gloves. You can’t blame him for me doing it now during games” he quips, “but that’s where I initially got that from.”
And that early influence of McGinnity and not wearing gloves is something that is engrained in Gallagher;
“I don’t like boys wearing gloves in the dry, absolutely! I give out to them for it. You don’t need gloves on a dry day! It might be slightly old-fashioned but that’s the way we look at it anyway.”
There have been many influences on Gallagher’s career over the years, as a player and a coach.
“My parents and my father, in particular, my uncle; Raymond’s (Gallagher) father, who has passed away, would’ve been big. When you were fortunate enough to go to St Michael’s where you had Dom Corrigan and Peter McGinnity, Peter in particular was a massive influence in his coaching style and the way he went about trying to improve players.
“Then I was lucky enough to have Martin McHugh, who was an exceptional manager at the time, at college. Then I went to Dublin and Gerry McEntee who would’ve been somebody I looked up to massively seeing playing for Meath, he was a brilliant influence and in the latter stages, Lenny Harbinson who was managing me with St Galls. I would’ve learnt massive amounts from all those people.
“I would also say on the soccer front, a very good coach I had was Ray Sanderson. Coming from the Fermanagh background where you had to make the most of your resources, you mightn’t have played the beautiful football other counties played but he got us to a very successful level.”
Gallagher has already brought Derry to a level of success they’ve been dreaming of for almost a quarter of a century, by winning the Anglo Celt in May. While he says he’s not looking beyond Galway, many in the county will be hoping, praying and dreaming that ‘Sam’ is on his way back for the first time since ‘93.
Gallagher was in Croke Park to watch the other quarter-final when Galway beat Armagh on penalties and says;
“It was a phenomenal occasion. The Armagh support was incredible, there was a great atmosphere in and around Croke Park. It was a pulsating end, the best team won with the exception of the first 10 or 12 minutes. Once they got settled down, Galway were the best team by a good stretch and they would’ve been devastated if they hadn’t been victorious. They are where they are now and it’s Galway we’re playing.
“There’s no denying you want to win Ulster Championships and you want to win All Ireland’s but at this point in time, winning an All Ireland doesn’t matter, it’s just about beating Galway and getting into an All Ireland final. I’m no different than the players, we just stay in the moment. Between now and Saturday the only focus for us is trying to get over the line against Galway and making sure we produce a really good display and we can talk about it after that.”
There’ll be no big inspirational team talks on Saturday before the teams run out, that’s not Gallagher’s style;
“No, absolutely not,” he says, “bit of craic in the dressing room. We’re training consistently, I don’t really give team talks.
“Before a match, there’s very little to say. You’re just spending time together, there’s no big speech. Those days are gone. You’re constantly communicating through your training and your coaching and I believe when you arrive on game day, you don’t need to go through anything.”
He is well aware these days don’t come round very often and he wants everyone to savour it;
“It’s really exciting, it’s something to never been taken for granted. It’s a very difficult place to get to for any team, with the exception of the Dublin’s, the Kerry’s and to the lesser extent, Mayo have been accustomed to it. A lot of counties don’t get the opportunity, so we’re aware of that and we’ve got to try and make the most of it now.”