Rory Gallagher. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Rory Gallagher's absence from Derry conversation is both understandable and unsatisfactory

Absent, but not gone, there is no neat point at which one can say Gallagher’s influence on this team has ended.


CIARAN MEENAGH RETAINED a sense of perspective as he stood before the media on Sunday evening. 

“I started with [the county] in 2019,” the Derry coach-turned-manager remarked after their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry. “We were in Division 4. We were going to Fraher Field. We were down in Wicklow. With all due respect to those counties, they did make life difficult for us, but look at where the team has come in a short period of time.

“I think Derry is a great example of a team that commits to each other, gets their house in order and does things right over a period of time.”

Underachievers that now appear almost capable of scaling the greatest heights, Meenagh’s optimism was paired with a disappointment which reflected the overwhelming county-wide effort that had brought Derry to this point.

If senior All-Ireland success eludes them, consider what has been going on at underage level since 2015. On 10 separate occasions Derry have competed in Ulster football finals; winning one U20 and four minor titles. Two of those minor teams carried on and won a pair of All-Irelands.  

While Sunday’s defeat will hurt, Derry, no more than Limerick in hurling, have laid the best possible groundwork for future success at senior level. And yet, just as Limerick’s senior success owes a great debt to the efforts of John Kiely and his management team, so too will Derry know that penetrating Gaelic football’s elite tends to require an individual of unique capability. 

For a while, it appeared as if Rory Gallagher was that individual. 


“It would be quite remiss of me if I didn’t give huge credit to Rory Gallagher because the way our games are structured, if you’re not one of the best teams in the country in any given year you don’t get these type of accolades. He has been the main driver of creating the environment for Derry, for bringing them back from the brink to being a top four side in the country.”

  • Chrissy McKaigue on winning an All-Star in 2022 


Chrissy McKaigue was not alone in highlighting Gallagher’s influence on the Derry senior football team after his appointment in 2019. 

Star forward Shane McGuigan credited Gallagher with changing his “mindset” about how Gaelic football ought to be played. The All-Star Conor Glass described him as a “players’ manager” who had galvanised Derry to win a first provincial title for 24 years and guided them to an All-Ireland semi-final in 2022. 

Building on that notable success, Gallagher’s Derry gained promotion from Division 2 this year and cruised past Fermanagh and Monaghan to a second successive Ulster final. 

Days before that game against Armagh was due to take place, however, Nicola Gallagher, the estranged wife of the Derry manager, alleged via social media that she had suffered a litany of domestic violence attacks by her husband over the course of two decades.

A response from Rory Gallagher followed in which he stated that “allegations against me have been investigated and dealt with by the relevant authorities”, and that he would thereafter leave “this matter in the hands of my legal team”. 

On the Friday before Derry’s Ulster final appearance, Gallagher stated somewhat ambiguously that he was “stepping back as Derry senior football manager with immediate effect”. Two days after the game was played, it was announced that he had definitively stepped down and Ciaran Meenagh would take charge for the remainder of the season. 

Gallagher’s name has scarcely been mentioned in sporting discussions surrounding Derry’s championship run thereafter. 

It is at once understandable and unsatisfactory. 


One did not need to search hard for various viewpoints on Nicola Gallagher’s allegations and her husband’s response to them. Social media is a maelstrom of conflicting ideas at the best of times. The emergence of such a situation can generate a level of toxicity that is difficult to comprehend. 

I believe Gallagher’s role as Derry manager became untenable following the publication of the allegations. Others will argue that the prior involvement of the authorities should have allowed him to continue. 

Such differences in outlook are the result of personal experiences too great to succinctly navigate here. 

What I can offer is my own point of view, and the manner in which Gallagher’s prior involvement with Derry continues to influence my feeling towards this team in his absence. 

For almost four years, they were his team. Their success owed a great deal to Gallagher’s work, and though they have mirrored last year’s accomplishments without him on the sideline, it would be facetious to suggest that his departure has negated the influence he had. 

Although it was not intended as an endorsement of Gallagher, when Shane McGuigan was asked about the tumultuous nature of that week leading up to an Ulster final his remarks were indicative of the departed manager’s lasting impression: “The work was done, not this week let me tell you, it was done in the last six months. Nothing changed.” 


The Derry senior football team won Ulster titles and an All-Ireland before Rory Gallagher, and they may achieve the same again after his name has faded in relevance. 

Although this particular team owes something significant to his influence, I feel uncomfortable with how my feelings toward them are informed by that impact, yet unshakable in my outlook that the allegations made against Gallagher changed how I viewed him – and, in turn, his team. 

Absent, but not gone, there is no neat point at which one can say Gallagher’s influence on these players’ lives has ended. Yeats queried how we may know the dancer from the dance, and there is a degree, in my view, to which Gallagher’s input and this team’s output are similarly linked indefinitely. 

It is not that I have conflated the individual and the team, and regard them now as one entity. That would be a gross simplification of what is a complex situation. Rather, the bubble which usually surrounds sport and occasionally distinguishes it from the horrors of real life has been pierced. 

In this particular situation, I cannot look beyond it.