Michael Gallagher or ‘Big G’ as he is affectionately known, played one full game and was sprung off the bench in another in Donegal’s run to the 1992 All-Ireland triumph.
His full game was in the Ulster semi-final win over Fermanagh in Healy Park. Better known as a midfielder and having played most of his county football in either the number eight or nine shirts, he wore the number six shirt against the Erne County.
His other championship outing was when replacing Manus Boyle ten minutes into the second half of Donegal’s opener with Cavan, in Breffni Park. And while he does not recall much from that game, he does remember being named in the starting 15 by Brian McEniff for the replay with the Breffni men but being forced to withdraw on the Friday night before the game through injury.
He picked up the injury playing a club game with Civil Service in Dublin on the Tuesday night before the Cavan replay. Not only did the knee ligament injury rule him out of the replay with Cavan in Ballybofey, it also had a profound effect on the rest of his season as he struggled to regain full fitness.
“When I suffered the injury at first it did not seem too serious and I thought nothing of it, but as the week wore on it became clear that it was not just a knock to the knee and there was more to it. I remember receiving an injection at training on the Friday night, but when this did not work I was forced to withdraw from the team,” said Michael.
“It was very disappointing at the time, because when the team had been named earlier in the week, I was on it. Little did I realise at the time that it was going to affect me for the rest of the season and possibly deny me a realistic chance of making the team as I struggled to regain full fitness again.
“I did play against Fermanagh in the semi-final at centre half-back. But I had a poor game and did not play again for the rest of the run. The reality is that due to the injury I never regained full fitness and with the competition for places so keen it was always going to be hard to get back into the team once you were out.
“Mind you it was not easy sitting and watching. It was great that we were winning and on a great run, but it was not easy watching from the dugout. Players want to play the game and I was no different. I wanted to be out and in the thick of the action and while you did not wish any of your teammates ill luck of picking up an injury or having a poor game you were always hoping to get a run.”
There was a chink of hope in the All-Ireland final when Brian Murray began to struggle with a hamstring, but in the end it was Barry Cunningham that got the call.
“Everybody was playing so well and the team as a unit was playing well so it was hard to get in. The team was very settled at the time and more or less picked itself. The boys around the middle played so well against Derry in the Ulster final there was never a chance and while the All-Ireland semi-final performance against Mayo was not great, the problem in that game was that the forwards had an off day, but the boys out the field played well.
“In the final itself, the boys played out of their skin and unless someone picked up an injury there was no chance of getting on. I suppose when I saw that Brian (Murray) was in trouble, I did think I was in with a chance, but Barry (Cunningham) got the nod and I have no complaint with that. He was going well in training and when he came on he did well.
“But it would have been nice to get on because as I said earlier nothing beats playing and to be honest it is not the same and while it was good to be part of it, the first and only team to win the All-Ireland, I suppose it is my one big disappointment that I did not get to play more in the championship. But that is life and sport and you just have to get on with life and move on. That is why I always felt so sorry for Roy Keane, who missed the 1999 Champions League final due to suspension. It must have been heartbreaking for him especially as he had played such a huge role in the team getting to the final.”
During ‘92 and for all of his county days Michael was living and working in Dublin and made the twice and sometimes three times a week trip to Donegal for training. During his years in Dublin, too, he played his club football with the Civil Service club, then one of the top senior clubs in the capital and was familiar with and played against all of the Dublin players that faced Donegal in the ‘92 final.
“Civil Service was going well at the time and we won a league and in fact lost the ‘92 Dublin final to Kilmacud Crokes. We lost the final by a point. I played against most of the ‘92 Dublin team players like Keith Barr, Jack Sheedy, Paul Clarke, Eamon Heery, Niall Guiden, John O’Leary and I knew them all fairly well and it goes without saying that made the win all the sweeter.
“The travelling up and down to Donegal was pretty tough and demanding too and it was also pretty demanding on my wife Carmel. Our first son Jamie was born in February ‘92 and she found herself at home holding the fort while I was up and down to Donegal two to three times a week, twice during the week and once at weekends. But she was very understanding and to be honest only for her I wouldn’t be able to do it and while I didn’t get much game time it was worth it in the end when we won the final.”
In his Donegal senior career that spanned four seasons over five years, Michael played in three Ulster finals and was among the subs for a fourth, ‘92.
In 1989 shortly after returning from a number of years in the US and London, he was drafted into the squad by Tom Conaghan and was at midfield alongside Anthony Molloy, as Donegal lost the ‘89 final to Tyrone.
He was back in the US again for the 1990 campaign, but returned in ‘91 and was once again in the middle of the park as Donegal were well beaten in the Ulster decider of ‘91 by Down. Again in 1993, he was alongside Brian Murray, when Donegal surrendered their Ulster crown to Derry, on a day the heavens opened in Clones and the game was played on a mud bath.
“I suppose you could say I hadn’t the best of luck in Ulster finals alright losing the three I played in and not making the team for the other. It is interesting that Down and Derry, who beat us in ‘91 and ‘93, went on to win the All-Ireland.
“This and the fact that we won it in ‘92 underlines the strength of the three counties and Ulster football at the time and also how difficult it was to win Ulster. I have no doubt if we had beaten Derry in 1993, that we would have given winning the second All-Ireland a right good rattle. Unfortunately, it was not to be, but that Ulster final should not have been played. St. Tiernach’s Park was like a swamp and was not playable.
“That team and squad should have won more than one All-Ireland, but Ulster was very competitive back then and I also feel the ‘92 success came a year or two too late. The team was getting on in years at the time and probably peaked around ‘92/’93. But it was good to win one; there have been many good teams and players down the years that did not and I’m very happy to have been a member of the Donegal team that did.”
Michael Gallagher never played county minor and he was given his first taste of county football at U-21 by Jackie McDermott in 1983. And he was at midfield on the U-21 team that lost the U-21 Ulster final to Derry as Donegal surrendered their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns.
The ‘93 Ulster final defeat by Derry brought down the curtain on his Ulster championship days and he walked away with one Ulster and one All-Ireland medal.