GAA Football

Niall Gallagher: inspirational teenager fighting back to full fitness

Séamas McAleenan

THE result of the Donegal minor football tie in Connolly Park between Malin and Urris would not garner too many headlines outside the respective parishes except for the appearance of a substitute for Malin.

The teams were level at the second water break but Malin pulled away, according to the brief report on the club’s facebook page, after “fresh legs from the bench proved to be decisive” in gaining them a place in the Divisional final.

One pair of the fresh legs belonged to Niall Gallagher who was returning to competitive football after a challenging nine and a half months that began with a very uncertain future for the teenager.

Shortly after he had worn the Scoileanna Inis Eoghain colours in their first ever Danske Bank MacRory Cup tie in November last year, Niall went to his GP feeling unwell. He had been feeling unusually tired and low in energy.

Niall was immediately referred to Letterkenny University Hospital and was then rushed to St James’ Hospital in Dublin where he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Within a short period of time he had commenced a three year programme in the Denis Burkitt ward for the treatment of ALL including chemotherapy, steroids and other medications as well as several lumbar punctures. St James’ Hospital was to be his home for the next six months.

A gofundme page was set up to help the family relocate to Dublin, while treatment continued.

Playing football again for his club was a dream, just getting his life back on track was his ambition.

But for the last few weeks the inspirational teenager has been attending training with the Malin minors and his substitute appearance on Tuesday suggested that there is every chance that his once promising football career can get back on track.

Malin GAA club chairman and secretary of the Inis Eoghain Divisional Board Pat McLaughlin described Niall as a very active member of his local club before the illness hit.

“Niall captained Malin to the under 12 Divisional championship in 2015 and then two years later they won the all-county under 14 Division 1 title and Niall was also making huge progress on county Development squads.

“His appearance at training a few weeks ago gave everyone a huge lift and people in other clubs have passed on their good wishes as well.

“Niall is a gentleman and he has a very positive attitude to everything: 'Right what has to be done next, let's get on with it.'

“That is the way he is and I would say that has helped him a lot in his battle to get back to where he is now. He is an inspirational young man.”

The Malin chairman went on to describe 2020 as a difficult year for the north Donegal area.

“You had COVID and then tragedies locally here and recently over in Moville. The north Donegal area has suffered a lot.

“Niall’s recovery has really lifted so many hearts. And, while we know the lad still has a good way to go, it really is a welcome good news story for the area.”

In a statement on social media his mother thanked everyone, particularly the teenager’s friends, for their generosity.

“We as a family are eternally grateful to you all…. Niall’s friends should get an extra special thanks, what an amazing group of lads.

“You are all wonderful young men who were there when Niall needed you the most and still are. Your parents should be very proud of you all. I know we are.

“We would like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you for all your support and generosity. Thanks for all the calls, texts, prayers and mass intentions.

“You will never know how much we have appreciated this and continue to do so.”

The statement continued with an update on Niall’s medical condition

“Niall has now entered the last but longest phase of treatment. It will last for another two and a half years.

“He will continue with monthly trips to St James’ as well as oral chemotherapy daily. Niall still has a long road in front of him but most importantly he is on the right road.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football