Hurler was seated beside the brother in law in Carrick-on-Shannon at the end of July when Donegal beat Laois in the All-Ireland qualifier. Down below us Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher were locked deep in conversation as they watched Donegal struggle past Justin McNulty’s ultra-defensive Leinster outfit. The brother in law nudged Hurler in the ribs and nodded in the direction of the two boys. “If them two stand any closer sur, they’ll only need the one tracksuit.” Hurler laughed, but it was a good analogy for what was perceived to be an ultra close working relationship between McGuinness and Gallagher.
And then a fortnight ago, two or three days after McGuinness confirmed that he was continuing in the Donegal hotseat for a fourth year, came the bombshell that Gallagher was ‘stepping down”. Like most Donegal fanatics, Hurler nearly took to the bed when that news broke. Looking in from the outside, it seemed Gallagher brought an awful lot to the Donegal table. Without insider information there is no way of telling, but from the supporters perspective McGuinness and Gallagher resembled a double act.
Even though McGuinness got the lion’s share of the credit when Donegal scaled the dizzy heights in 2012, he also attracted the majority of the criticism when they hit rock bottom this year. The buck undoubtedly stopped with him. Yet, like most Donegal supporters, Hurler never for one moment considered McGuinness a sole trader. It was always about the two of them, Jim and Rory, confabbing and confiding along the line, practically in the one tracksuit. A partnership: Bonnie and Clyde, Fred and Ginger, Gilbert and Sullivan. At worst, Gallagher was surely a subordinate of extraordinary high standing: Tonto to Jim’s Lone Ranger, Robin to Jim’s Batman, The Sundance Kid to Jim’s Butch Cassidy.
So how does Butch Cassidy fare in future gunfights when the Kid’s not around to cover his ass? Who’ll spot the sniper in the bell-tower when Jim’s distracted by the outriders on the wings?
When Hurler heard that Rory was no more, the first name that sprang to mind – believe it or not – was that of Peter Taylor. A soccer man. Way back in the days when it was actually worth investing an hour of one’s week to look at Match of the Day, Hurler was fascinated by the relationship between Taylor and the enigmatic Brian Clough. Clough was the front man at every club he ever managed but he was only first among equals – he was Bonnie, Taylor was Clyde. Clough only really worked as a manger when Taylor was around. And Taylor was around at Hartlepool, Derby, and Forest. When the two eventually fell out – and that wasn’t hard done with Clough – Clough’s Forest side would never again scale the heights attained during the golden days of his partnership with Taylor.
To read more from ‘Hurler on the Ditch’ click here.