When Rory Gallagher began kicking ball on the Navan Rd back in 2002 he got an insight as to what football was like in the capital.
Belleek, Gallagher’s hometown in Fermanagh, and Blanchardstown are worlds apart but a similar ethic existed between their respective clubs, Erne Gaels and St Brigid’s.
It’s something that has stuck with the current Donegal manager, who recalled the difference in rural and urban yesterday.
“That’s something that a lot of people living outside Dublin do not grasp,” he says.
“There is this perception of their clubs that there are a lot of outsiders, but to see the people that are around the work they put into it going out on Saturday mornings repeatedly in developing the players.
“I would really admire the work that went in.”
St Brigid’s, with Gallagher continuing the form that saw him the top scorer in Ulster for three successive years, won the Dublin and Leinster championships.
“Up to this point, working with these lads, it was the most enjoyable experience I have had in football,” said Gallagher.
Gallagher, then 23, made the move to Dublin as he had just finished a business studies degree at IT Sligo in 2002.
With some GAA coaching certificates stuffed into his bag, he took up a position in the Blanchardstown-Castleknock area.
It, too, was an eye-opener.
“I worked as a coach and it was a phenomenal experience,” said Gallagher.
“Philly McMahon, Johnny Cooper, Diarmuid Connolly — these guys were 14, 15, and 16. Paddy Andrews is one I would have worked with for a good few years.”
Dublin were almost halfway through a 16-year All-Ireland drought and Gallagher admits the signs of a blue wave coming weren’t particularly obvious.
But foundation stones were being put in place.
“It was hard to see it coming.
“Dublin had not won a Leinster in seven years and you could see the elation when they won in 2002 and got close to reaching an All-Ireland final.
“You could see it building with the amount of work that was going on in the club scene.”
Dublin have since stamped their authority on football, Stephen Cluxton kicking an injury-time free to defeat Kerry in the 2011 final, following a curious 0-8 to 0-6 All-Ireland semi-final win over Donegal.
Gallagher was Jim McGuinness’s assistant in 2011 and a year later, as Donegal took Sam to the Hills for only the second time.
Now, Dublin have won three out of the last five All-Irelands and they’re rampant favourites again.
The last team to beat them, famously, was Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final on a 3-14 to 0-17 scoreline.
That was seen as a shock to the wider football public, although less so in Donegal. Gallagher wasn’t involved that season but this season’s side have been similarly written off.
“The level of performance that we’re capable of, we feel we can beat anybody and that would have been the same looking from relatively on the outside in 2014,” said Gallagher.
“The whole country obsesses about Dublin. When you are in Ulster you worry about Ulster first. You keep an eye on Dublin all year, of course.
“They are a very good side. It is up to others to determine how good they are; all we are concerned with is being ready on Saturday evening.
“They beat us in 2011, we beat them in 2014. It is like a lot of rivalries — you can see one game as defining but they are not really. We learned a lot from 2011; I am sure Dublin learned a lot from 2014, and Saturday evening will present a new challenge for both teams.
“For sure they are beatable. Dublin would be very much aware of that. To beat them you have to do an awful lot of things right.
“You have to produce a level of intensity that is greater than theirs. You have to make sure when you get the chances that you put them away. That’s the challenge for us.”
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