GAA Football

Former Antrim ace Owen Gallagher starring for Galway footballers

Owen Gallagher excelled for Galway against Down in Newry last weekend

IN 2015, Owen Gallagher was cutting a dash with the Antrim footballers and looked every bit the resident centre-forward in Frank Fitzsimons’ team.

After three Championship outings that year – which included a dramatic win over Laois in the Qualifiers – Antrim were gone. And so too was Gallagher.

With the usual high turnover of players in Antrim every year, the Glenavy man slipped off the radar and wouldn’t wear the saffron jersey again.

He moved to Galway to study medicine, played Sigerson for five seasons before inspiring Moycullen – his “second home” – to their first-ever Galway SFC title in 2020.

Later, Pádraig Joyce rang him to join the Galway senior football panel – and Gallagher hasn’t looked back since.

Last Saturday night, the 28-year-old attacker was one of the best performers on the field as the Tribesmen cast aside Down in a Division Two clash in Newry.

Speaking at pitch-side, having bagged two points in Galway’s six-point win, Gallagher explained: “I played for Antrim in 2015 under ‘Russ’ [former Antrim boss Frank Fitzsimons].

“We beat Laois that year in the All-Ireland Qualifiers and played that whole year. I was on a year out from studying and then I got into medicine in NUIG Galway and I left for Galway in August 2015.

“I barely knew where it was on the map. I didn’t know how I ended up going there, but I turned right on the motorway, headed west, got a bit lost, but I haven’t looked back since.”

In the early days, Gallagher travelled home to play for Glenavy but it was impossible to sustain the heavy road trips.

He then decided to move to the Gaeltacht village of Moycullen – seven miles outside Galway city - to play his football.

“I thought my inter-county career was long gone,” he said.

“I joined the [Galway] panel in 2017 but I was so off the pace and in 2020 I thought my football career was over because of COVID.

“I was working as a junior doctor and I thought that was the extent of me playing high level football. I got playing with Moycullen and we had a great year and I thought that was the sum of it - winning the Galway championship. But it has gone up and up and up.”

“PJ [Pádraig Joyce] gave me the call this year and I thought I’d come in and see if it was possible to do my job and play. Galway have been incredibly accommodating, as has my work, and here we are now seven years later.”

Gallagher’s brother Patrick was lining out for Antrim up until a couple of seasons ago while his other brother James is part of London’s surprise renaissance.

Should Galway and London win their respective openers in this year’s Connacht Championship - the Tribesmen face Mayo and London take on Leitrim - the Gallagher brothers could end up playing against each other in the semi-finals.

Joyce, meanwhile, has been hugely impressed with Gallagher and feels he offers the Galway half-forward line a new dimension.

“Owen’s played really well for Moycullen having won the county final [in 2020],” said Joyce.

“He’s a different type of player than what we’re used to in Galway. He’s a good, strong carrier of the ball and in fairness he played really well against Down, and he got a score when we badly needed it."

The Galway boss added: “I’m very happy with him. When I rang him to come into the panel, he jumped at the chance and in fairness to him he organised his work schedule to be here because he’s a doctor in Galway. He’s a great lad. I can’t say anything bad about him and he’s playing really well for us.”

Gallagher has no intentions of leaving the west just yet where he works as a senior house officer in acute medicine at the Galway University Hospital.

So the prospect of him ever returning home to wear the saffron jersey again appears remote.

“You obviously do miss home and I don’t get back as much as I’d like to with football and work,” Gallagher said.

“But Galway is a beautiful city, a beautiful county. This has been all so unexpected.

“I’ll not look beyond the next six months. It’s a bit of a nomadic lifestyle. I never expected the road to take me to Galway in the first place and then to play for Galway.

“I’m 28 and I’m having a bit of an Indian summer, I’m playing with a lot of younger guys who are all students. I’m one of the elder statesmen of the team. It’s been a bit of a fairytale for me, but I’m loving every minute of it.”

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