BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN you hear Anthony Molloy lauding a centrefield performance it’s time to sit up and take note.
The big Ardara man, captain of Donegal when they won Sam Maguire for the first and only time in 1992, this week said that Neil Gallagher’s display in the All-Ireland semi-final was ‘up there with some of the best fielding performances of the modern day’.
Gallagher’s display won the modest Glenswilly man plaudits, but he took it all in his quiet nature.
He rarely does interviews and doesn’t hog the spotlight, but this week he was delighted and honoured to have been named as the Donegal News Sports Personality of the Month award winner for August 2012.
His fielding against Cork was a key note for Donegal.
He won seven catches from Paul Durcan’s kickouts and that some of those came directly after a Cork score was an added plus. Time and time again the big man rose magnificently to get his mits on the leather. Against Cork’s man mountains, Gallagher stood tall – and delivered a performance that rightly had Molloy singing his praises. Gallagher’s display was certainly one of the best ever by a Donegal midfielder – and harked back memories of Molloy in ‘92.
Gallagher could now also be in the reckoning for an All-Star. Michael Darragh Macauley of Dublin, he too with Donegal roots, seems likely to get into the All-Star 15, but Gallagher has launched himself into the frame. His performances all year have been a steadying influence on Donegal and it was a crying shame that he had to miss the Ulster final through an injury picked up in a club league game a couple of weeks beforehand.
Last year, Gallagher found gametime hard to come by and there was even whispers that he was ready to walk away. But the big Donegal Couty Council employee returned with a vengence this year – and in some style.
“Neil is an example of a fella who had to develop in a different way to fit into the system we’re trying to create. He has done that unbelievably well,” Jim McGuinness said on Sunday.
“He has a very good pair of hands, but he moves the ball a lot quicker than he did. He plays intelligent football and he adds a lot of value to us.
“He has taken the information to make him a better player and brought it back to the group.”
The unassuming Gallagher admitted that the game was the most ferocious game he’s played in for the county.
“That was probably the toughest game I’ve ever played in,” he said.
“The intensity was incredible. They’re a big, strong side who hit hard. That was tight but we took the good with the bad and stood up to the challenge. Once the game settled we got into our plan and did what we set out to do.
“It was a very, very tough battle out there. We expected that coming up and prepared fierce well for that game. We knew that it was going to take an awfully big performance to get past Cork, which thankfully we got.”
He’s happy with his own game now too. He said: “I’ve been working hard at my game and just doing what the boys tell me. When the team is going well you’re mad to be involved. There’s no point sitting around doing nothing. You would much rather be playing.”
Now, Gallagher will fulfill a lifelong dream. He straddled the roadside in Glenswilly as a nine-year old in September 1992 and would dearly love to bring Sam back into Glenswilly’s hills again.
He said: “It’s every young boy’s dream to play in an All Ireland final. We weren’t too far away last year and we were mad to get back again. It’s a long way back to this stage and we’ve all worked hard to get here. It’s important that we prepare well for the final now.
“We don’t want to leave it there. Now we’re in the final we want to win it.”