Another Prince for Tir Chonaill

Another Prince for Tir Chonaill

Another Prince for Tir Chonaill

GERRY Mclaughlin

On Saturday night, the greatest footballer that Fermanagh never had will be meeting up with old comrades.

Last season, Rory Gallagher made a sensational return to the Erne colours at the ripe old age of 31. He finished up as top scorer - ‘the king of clubs' will be wearing very different colours on Saturday night on the banks of the Finn.

The ‘Special One's' latest port of call is Donegal (where he lives and works).

And it looked like he had been coaching Tirchonaill a number of years as he barked out instructions to the Donegal forwards on Sunday in Edendork beside the silent but commanding figure of his new boss.

Sunday's McKenna Cup match was a fitting memorial to the late Michaela Harte - from a Tyrone viewpoint - but Belleek's most elegant star has always been different.

At the age of ten he wore an earring which clearly marked him out from his peers. And in his teens, Rory Gallagher showed all the tricks and twists of a true artist. Those who know him say he gets his remarkable kicking skills from his uncle Eamonn Kavanagh who played with Errigal Chiaran and Glentoran.

But Gallagher's driving ambition is inherited from his father, Gerry Gallagher, who was a major factor in Erne Gaels' county championship wins in 1979 and 1981.

Rory Gallagher has never been afraid to challenge authority - even when it came in the formidable shape of his red haired late uncle Raymond (an outstanding Fermanagh hurler) who died too soon in 2007.

In an age of mighty mavericks, Gallagher is right up there with Kerry's Paul Galvin, Ciaran McDonald of Mayo and Donegal's inimitable Brendan Devenney.

Gallagher has enthralled fans throughout Ulster with his vision, finishing power and coaching abilities. But what will this eternal enigma bring to the ambitious table of Jim McGuinness?

It seems an unlikely alliance between two former student princes.

Ironically, if Rory and his gregarious brother Ronnie had been born 300 metres further north they could have lined out legally with Donegal.

These days, Rory is manager of a supermarket for his father-in-law Gerry Rooney, in Killybegs, yet he continues to travel cross country to play for last year's All-Ireland club champions St. Galls, in Belfast.

The question is can he and big Jim McGuinness lead Donegal's to a badly needed Ulster title. McGuinness and Gallagher are an interesting mix of a strong commanding presence and mercurial genius for seizing the day. Both men have self-belief and are totally and utterly winners.

Rory Gallagher was an outstanding U-14 when Erne Gaels were beaten in a county final by Roslea in 1992. Four years later he won an All-Ireland B with the Ernesiders. (He took a Fermanagh Senior Football League in the same year with Erne Gaels.)

And who can forget his truly incredible 3-9 against Monaghan in the Ulster Championship of 2002 - or that cheeky chip that deceived Tony Blake of Donegal in the Ulster Championship 2001.

Both Gallagher and McGuinness are driven individuals with little time for ASFI's (aargh sure f..k it attitude of some club players).

And Gallagher could be a balancing force for McGuinness, who sometimes finds it difficult to delegate.

Rory Gallagher left Fermanagh in 2002 for greener pastures.

He and cousin Raymond were key figures in St. Bridget's Leinster championship victory in 2005.

And some observers believe that Dublin team boss Tommy Lyons made a huge mistake in not adding the two Gallaghers to his panel.

But, 2004 and 2008 were arguably Gallagher's most frustrating years.

The ‘special one' was forced to watch lesser players almost gain an All-Ireland appearance for Fermanagh. He was a BBC sports commentator four years later when the Erne County came tantalisingly close to an Ulster title.

Affectionately known as ‘Rooster' with an Eric Cantona look, he is undoubtedly ever to come out from Erne Gaels.

As an Erne Gaels man myself, I would dearly love to see Rory, Ronan and cousin Raymond lining out in the black and amber of Belleek - internal club politics permitting.

It must be a source of great concern to the highly talented and motivated Rory that he has missed out on playing inter-county football at the highest level in Croke Park.

He has joined a Donegal set-up that has enormous potential - but who is to say that Gallagher won't be playing a major role for Tirchonaill this season.

Ballyshannon bookie Andrew Doherty has been giving 13/1 on Donegal winning that elusive Ulster title.

With Gallagher on board, those odds look very tempting.

Rory Gallagher, the former Fermanagh and Cavan footballer, will be in new territory on Saturday night when he is in the Donegal dugout as a Donegal mentor for their clash with the Maguire men in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.