By Damian Dolan
If last year was “one to remember” for Liam Gallagher then 2019 could be set to surpass it for the Tir Chonaill Gaels wing back, whose performances in this year’s championship run have been nothing short of electrifying.
A permanent fixture in TCG’s senior team this year, having been part of the club’s history-making junior winning team of 2018, Gallagher is positively thriving.
His dynamic lung-bursting runs from right wing back have become a feature. Like the Energizer Bunny, he just never seems to tire.
It brought him a point in the senior final against Fulham Irish, on the back of a brace in the semi-final win over St Kiernans, and a lot of plaudits.
Gallagher has made the TCG number seven jersey his own this year.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the 23-year-old. Twelve months ago, fresh from winning a junior title, Gallagher was sling-shot into the senior county final replay win over Fulham Irish.
A 45th minute replacement for Brendan Friel, his services were then called upon even earlier at Dr Hyde Park, as TCG gave Clann na nGael a run for their money in the sides’ Connacht quarter-final before going down by 1-15 to 1-10.
Such was manager Paul Coggins’ faith in him.
“It was a big season last year, winning those trophies across the two grades. One to remember,” Gallagher told the Irish World.
“We were well in with a shout [versus Clann na nGael]. We might have even surprised ourselves at how well we were doing.”
He added: “But some of our game management didn’t go as well as we’d hoped when we were on top, and we let them get back into it.
“They were a stronger team than we’d be used to playing and they capitalised. That’s definitely a lesson that we’ll take into Sunday.”
It’s an experience, though, that should stand to TCG on Sunday says Gallagher, and this time the very familiar surroundings of McGovern Park, Ruislip, provide the setting.
“Because of what’s at stake and the standard, there’s an added intensity, so it’s about making sure we’re mentally prepared,” he said.
“We’ve got a good understanding of our roles so it’s about sticking to that and having faith in whatever management put in place.”
Three county titles now in two years for Gallagher, and a Connacht Club quarter-final under his belt. Not bad for someone who only returned to Gaelic football three years ago.
Born to a Donegal father and Monaghan mother, from the age of six he was “straight into” playing Gaelic football with St Kiernans underage.
Although part of Ciaran Deely’s set-up earlier this year, he actually made his London debut as a 17-year-old back in 2014, against Leitrim at Ruislip in the National League.
It was the realisation of an ambition which stemmed from representing North London at Feile alongside the likes of Killian Butler, Patrick O’Connor and Aidan McGarvey, and seeing Coggins’ Exiles famously reach a Connacht final.
2013 was a “big driving factor” on the young Gallagher.
“That set a level of aspiration for a lot of us, as London-born players, to want to try and do something,” he said.
“We always felt we were able to compete with any team we played from Ireland, even when we were 14.”
But GAA took a back seat when he attended university in Bristol, only to be picked up again when he returned home. This time, though, with TCG. The lure of playing with his friends was too much to resist.
After playing soccer for three years, Gallagher found getting back into Gaelic football “hard”. Re-adjusting to the different skill set of GAA was his first priority, but he also had to make a mental adjustment.
“I went from playing as a teenager to playing as a 21-year-old. There was more expected [of me] and you had to try and focus on it more,” said Gallagher, who comes from Borehamwood in Buckinghamshire.
Gallagher attributes his rapid rise this year, in part, to his involvement with London earlier in the year.
Although a broken hand picked up in a challenge match in Dublin ruled him out of the Connacht championship match with Galway, he returned to make his championship debut against Offaly in the qualifiers.
It provided “good exposure” to the levels of commitment required, and the standard and intensity of inter-county football.
For Gallagher, the most intriguing aspect was seeing a team forged from an array of individuals, and a number of different clubs.
“At the start of the season, people don’t know each other, but by the end it’s a really close-knit unit,” he said.
“That’s the importance of having a homegrown contingent – you’ll always have a core group who’ll be there every year.”
It was an experience which left him “very well equipped” when he returned to his club, to force his way into the TCG senior starting team. Senior football with TCG “was always the ambition”.
He certainly hasn’t looked out of place. Far from it in fact.
“Last year as a sub, I was just looking to make an impact, whereas now I’ve a clearly defined role within the team,” he said.
“Everyone has an understanding of what my strengths are and I’ve a good understanding of everyone else’s.
“That really plays into why we’re doing so well as a team. We’re not being carried by individuals – it’s strong collective performances that are getting us over the line.”
Gallagher attributes that to the team’s management, and to a “close-knit core group” of players who’ve stuck together and are keen to push on from last year.
If they prevail on Sunday, that team ethic will be the reason.
“Ruislip can be quite an intimidating place if it gets a good crowd. Hopefully there will be one on Sunday and it can help push us on,” said Gallagher.
Last year was good, but 2019 could yet eclipse it for TCG and Gallagher.