It was on October’s first Friday last year the Donegal panel each received a simultaneous text message that thanked them for their service and wished them all the best for their future — both individually and collectively.
It was from Jim McGuinness, who also informed his players his four-year term as manager would be just that. He was stepping aside from his position, concluding his participation in Donegal’s golden age that saw the county team win the All-Ireland championship and three Ulster titles.
Having just missed out on capturing Sam Maguire for the third time just two weeks’ beforehand — following a 2-9 to 0-12 loss to Kerry at Croke Park — there was a lingering sense of emptiness echoing about the north-west.
Before the tears had dried on McGuinness’s departure, six nights later a managerless Donegal learned they would be hosting Tyrone in the preliminary round of the Ulster SFC.
Rory Gallagher sat pretty much in silence for the year since he had unceremoniously parted company with the Donegal management team and, like McGuinness, has kept his counsel on the matter of the split to this day.
In the meantime he was joint-manager of Kilcar with John McNulty and took the side from Towney to Donegal’s All-County Football League Division One as well as the Comortas Peile Na Gaeltachta in Moycullen, Co Galway.
Gallagher had been McGuinness’s assistant for three years. In Donegal, a county that had only ever won five provincial titles and the 1992 All-Ireland, there was a requirement to go for continuity. Ripping up the blueprint was ill-advised. Gallagher didn’t publicly throw his hat into the ring until the evening of the deadline, which had been set for 5pm on Friday, October 17.
And in Donegal — particularly when it comes to voting — there’s been constant instances where the perceived rational course of action has not been taken. This time though, the prudent choice was adhered to. Gallagher was ratified on Halloween night.
“I never had a minute’s hesitation,” Gallagher, a native of Belleek, Co Fermanagh, said in relation to his application. “In my own mind I wanted to find out was where the players were at. They were coming fresh off a major disappointment in their sporting careers.
“People can do things in haste and I wanted just to let things settle down. But the squad of players made the job attractive. I just wanted to see what their plans are.”
The panel and the perception of them that McGuinness left compared to the one he found were contrasting opposites. Gallagher was certainly privy to the advancement in preparation, professionalism and performance in three seasons as assistant.
Now, as manager, he may be in a slightly different position, particularly as that Ulster SFC with Tyrone is on the horizon in Ballybofey on Sunday week. But Gallagher’s familiarity with the set-up is something that meant there was a fluent takeover — both from panel and the manager.
“Obviously there’s the added pressure as the buck stops with you,” Gallagher added. “I don’t feel that too much. I know in the three years previous we never wanted to lose a game. From my point of view and the players, it was a major plus, our familiarity. I know them as footballers and i know them as people.
“I felt, having been involved, while we performed to a high level and prepared to a very high level, it’s my job now to bring that on. What we did three years ago won’t be good enough this year. That’s the reality.
“Together, we can work well together and that’s a big plus. In the bedding in period I knew them very well. There’s not much I didn’t know about them or them about me. The players got used to preparing, training and looking after themselves to a very high level.
“They wanted the best chance of being successful and that’s something they wanted to continue. No matter who was the manager it was going to be something they players demanded anyway.”
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