Rory Gallagher's Ulster tussle with Mickey Harte will be 'intriguing'

By Thomas NiblockBBC Sport NI
Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher embrace after Donegal's victory over Tyrone in 2013
Rory Gallagher was Jim McGuinness's assistant when Donegal won the 2012 All-Ireland title
Ulster SFC Preliminary round: Donegal v Tyrone
Venue: MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey Date: Sunday, 17 May Throw-in: 16:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC TWO NI from 15:45 and Radio Ulster MW from 15:30 plus live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Scoring records always grab attention in the Niblock household.

In 1971 Mickey Niblock hit 2-4 from play in an Ulster final for Derry against Down - a record that eventually was overtaken when Frank McGuigan etched his name in history 1984.

Then there's Rory.

In the summer of 2002, and a summer break from university, I remember watching Rory Gallagher score 3-9 in an Ulster Championship game against Monaghan.

He finished top scorer in the Ulster Championship for three consecutive years, in 2000, 2001 and 2002. All this in a Fermanagh side, that failed to appear in an Ulster final

Before age caught up with Rory, he played with my cousins at St Gall's where Gallagher helped the club win their only All-Ireland in 2010.

When I first started presenting the championship on Radio Ulster, we used Rory Gallagher as an analyst.

He was excellent. When teams lined up, his eyes flickered, leeching information that would have passed most mortals by.

BBC Championship coverage

So, as an analyst, a young inter-county footballer or an ageing club player, Gallagher was class.

But what about as a manager?

The BBC cameras and radio teams roll into Ballybofey on Sunday, and while it would be ridiculous to judge a manager on a one-off game, Tyrone versus Donegal, the clash between Ulster's last two representatives to win the All-Ireland is enthralling.

Yes...Gallagher v Harte fills me with intrigue.

Jim McGuinness casts a long shadow in Donegal, his accomplishments outstanding but Rory had a large part to play in that success.

This week former Donegal star and BBC GAA analyst Brendan Devenney said:"Rory has freshened it up.

"Year one, Jim ran the show. Second year Rory became more vocal and the two boys bounced off each other.

"In the third year Rory was probably too vocal, and too much for Jim and that caused the two boys to fall out over a few issues."

Apart from anything else it probably demonstrated Rory had outgrown his position as number two.

Mark McHugh says Gallagher is the "the most intelligent GAA man I've ever met."

Mark McHugh sat out last season's inter-county season

Considering the family Mark comes from, and the fact he's worked under McGuinness that's a telling endorsement.

Then there's Mickey.

Earlier in my journalistic career I worked with a well-known journalist who was Mickey Harte's biggest fan but said after the Ulster defeat by Down in 2008 that it was time for the boss to go. He was adamant.

Mickey stayed and three months later, the Croke Park pitch was saturated with thousands of delirious supporters from Augher, Cookstown Omagh and Carrickmore.

Mickey and Tyrone are at their most ruthless when people least expect it.

Let's be frank, not too many expect Tyrone to win the All-Ireland, particularly with the 2015 player exodus.

Kyle Coney left after the McKenna Cup final. Mark Donnelly, Kevin Gallagher Dermot Carlin, Joe McMahon and Plunkett Kane soon followed.

Then after defeat against Kerry, Paddy McNiece, PJ Lavery, Shay McGuigan, Emmet McKenna and Dwayne Quinn decided to leave.

Joe McMahon and Dermot Carlin have since returned although neither are down to start this weekend.

From the outside looking in, it doesn't look good.

However the vast majority of those players were not first-team regulars.

The dedication needed to play for Tyrone is life changing. If you're not realistically going to get on during the league or even in the McKenna Cup, then maybe it's fair for fringe players to say "what's the point?"

Donegal seem to be in the box seat.

But whether you're watching the game on TV, listening to it on BBC Radio Ulster, listening to it live on your smartphone- or standing on the terrace in Ballybofey- Donegal against Tyrone stirs the juices.

You can't quite beat it.

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