It is different now for Rory Gallagher – then again, that was always his way.
When he first moved to live in Killybegs, nine years ago now, Ulster finals – let alone titles – were the stuff of dreams for his native and adopted counties.
By coincidence, Gallagher’s moving to Donegal was at the same time the plates were about to take a seismic shift.
Jim McGuinness took over as Donegal senior manager. He sought Gallagher out as a possible number two and the two helped Donegal through a golden generation.
They parted ways for 2014, when Donegal won Ulster and reached an All-Ireland final, but by 2015 Gallagher was the Donegal manager – a post he held for three years.
In spite of having a couple of years left to run, Gallagher stood down as Donegal manager in the wake of a heavy qualifier loss to Galway in 2017 and is now in his second season manager of his home county, Fermanagh.
As fate would have it, Gallagher had to eyeball Donegal in last year’s Ulster final. Donegal, in spite of losing Patrick McBrearty to an injury early in the second half, romped to a 2-18 to 0-12 win and went to the top of Ulster’s mountain again.
“We didn’t handle the occasion well, there is no doubt about that,” Gallagher says now, ahead of the latest showdown with Donegal tomorrow at Brewster Park.
“I think we struggled with the occasion. We struggled in the lead-up to it.
“I sensed it at the time. I would accept my part in it and I think Ricey… Having not lived in Fermanagh for the last 17 years or so, you are popping in and out to training, but you were never here.
“Being involved with Donegal you were used to Ulster finals, in five out of six years. You took it for granted as much as you knew it was a wee bit different.
“Maybe some of the people around the team were getting excited. The county board were getting excited. The supporter’s club were getting excited, and too much so.
“That impacted the players and I could sense a giddiness and a lack of focus at training. It’s up to ourselves to accept that now and we didn’t prepare as well as we possibly could.”
Gallagher admits there would have been a certain ‘Roy of the Rovers’ feel had Fermanagh – who spent last spring playing in Division Three – claimed a first ever Ulster title.
The thing about Gallagher is his insatiable belief in what he’s doing. Gallagher was never one for conforming to type.
“We have to cut our cloth to suit,” he said.
“We feel it is the style of play that gets the most out of the players we have at the minute. We feel we attack an awful lot.
“Look, everything evolves, I don’t think Fermanagh will stay the same forever, I think they are a bit different this year, we just need to make sure that we score more when we get in.”
Gallagher noted ‘too much giddiness’ last summer as Fermanagh got dizzy around an Ulster final appearance. His players, too, he feels, got caught in the hype and a ‘soap opera’, as he describes it now, didn’t aid their preparations.
It feels colder now as Gallagher, following an encouraging League campaign that included a win over Sunday’s opponents in Letterkenny.
Fermanagh consolidated comfortably and were in the hunt for a League final place for spells of the spring.
Gallagher says: “I think a big priority for ourselves was that these boys wanted it to be a bit different than how it went for them in previous number of years.
“It’s well-documented we put a huge investment in time into the first year. That was as much for us to get a feel for them and a few boys, to be fair to them, might have let themselves go too far.
“This year has been pleasing. We haven’t put in anything like the same amount of time and preparation into pre-season. The players looked after themselves and acquitted themselves well.
“They were anxious to push on, to play at as high a level as possible and there’s probably disappointment in not getting to Division One when it was in our own hands.”Tags: