Ulster final at least has clarity after Rory Gallagher steps back from role as Derry manager

Rory Gallagher: ‘I have advised Derry GAA that I am stepping back as Derry senior football manager with immediate effect’

The most surreal build-up to an Ulster final in living memory at least has some clarity around it now. Rory Gallagher’s decision on Friday night to step back from his role as Derry manager means he will not be on the sideline in Clones as they attempt to defend their provincial title against Armagh on Sunday. Quite what it means for the future is still up in the air.

“I have advised Derry GAA that I am stepping back as Derry senior football manager with immediate effect,” Gallagher said in his statement. “This decision is borne out of a desire to protect my children from the ongoing turmoil. They will always be my priority.”

Ciaran Meenagh, the Tyrone man who was a selector under Gallagher, will now take the reins. It is impossible to say whether this is to be a permanent arrangement. Sources in Derry indicate only that Gallagher is stepping back until further notice. All that can be said for certain is that he is not the Derry manager now.

It brings an end to a tumultuous week, one in which allegations from Gallagher’s ex-wife Nicola regarding domestic abuse were shared widely, first on social media and subsequently in the mainstream press. When Gallagher addressed them in a statement on Thursday, he gave no indication that he was considering removing himself from his role with the Derry footballers.


This naturally gave rise to much speculation as to what would happen if and when he turned up on the sideline for the Ulster showpiece this weekend. How would he be received by Derry supporters? By opposing supporters? By neutrals? Would there be banners in the crowd? Might there still?

Gallagher’s decision to step back has removed some of that and lowered the temperature around the game somewhat. That may or may not last beyond the throw-in, as there are plenty of footballing reasons for the game having the potential to take flight.

Derry are aiming to go back-to-back in Ulster for the first time since the mid-1970s. Armagh are back in a provincial decider for the first time since 2008, having watched every other Ulster county reach a final in the meantime. Even before the Gallagher situation brought nationwide attention to it, the Sold Out sign was on the door from early in the week.

But ever since Nicola Gallagher’s Facebook post on Tuesday night, it has been virtually impossible to consider the Ulster final in terms of football. An ugly family situation has taken centre-stage, played out in front of a national audience. Any talk of tactical machinations, of attacking goalkeepers, of back-door cuts or anything else has felt even smaller than usual in the face of it all.

For now, there’ll be a game. And a winner and a loser and a trophy and a speech.

Rory Gallagher won’t be in charge of Derry for any of it.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times