With a CV that includes Wigan Athletic, Wigan Warriors, Munster Rugby and Donegal GAA, meet ‘the man behind the man behind’ City of Derry’s impressive rise to the summit of All Ireland League Division 2B.
Joe Gallanagh is not so much a Judges Road secret weapon as a reluctant hero.
The quietly spoken strength and conditioning coach is not one who enjoys the limelight but he was the first person Head Coach Terry McMaster approached when it became clear the summer’s ‘will he, won’t he’ saga concerning the potential appointment of Phil Pretorius was veering toward the latter outcome.
And so confident was McMaster of Gallanagh’s impact, that even before the Head Coach’s role was resolved, he had brought the Buncrana based expert in and he has been reaping the rewards ever since.
Born in Wexford but raised in Australia, 43-year-old Gallanagh, comes from a Rugby League background and started his coaching career with National Rugby League club Newcastle Knights in New South Wales.
From there his studies took him to England where Salford Reds and Wigan Warriors benefited from his expertise but it wasn’t long until the bright lights of the English Premier League came calling in the guise of Wigan Athletic, then managed by Paul Jewell.
The ethos is the same, no matter the sport. Hard work and being consistent, they are the corner stones to any good team and I think S&C is a big part of it.Joe Gallanagh
“I think I have been quite lucky,” explains Gallanagh, “I have been in the right place at the right time on a few occasions but you have to be able to hold your own in these jobs and be able to do what you do.
“The Premier League was a fantastic experience and I was fortunate to work with some great people but to be honest, the job is the same as it is here at Judges Road.
“At the end of the day, they are all athletes and you’re trying to make them more resilient. You are trying to give them the ability to make themselves more effective around the pitch. To be able to impact the game and then go again and impact it again. That’s the goal and it doesn’t matter what level you are at. If you can achieve that level in any player, you’re on the right track.”
The Premier League would be the pinnacle for many a career but for rugby enthusiast Gallanagh, a greater opportunity would present itself after the completion of his five years with The Latics.
“We went back to Australia and I took a bit of time out to go through South America where I was due to help with Scotland at the Rugby league World Cup but I got a call from Munster Rugby.
“Munster was fantastic. It has a great tradition down there and I learned a lot from my time. Being in that environment, I was very lucky to work with big clubs and big players. When I was in the NRL, and even in Wigan rugby, these are clubs that win titles and from that point of view, it’s good to learn that winning mentality because you know what it takes and what these players are willing to go through to achieve their goals.
“The ethos is the same, no matter the sport. Hard work and being consistent, they are the corner stones to any good team and I think that is a big part of it.”
Despite the glamour of top flight rugby and football, Gallanagh eventually made the decision to move back north with his wife Angela and three-year old daughter, Dannii, to Buncrana where both have family.
As well as setting up his own company, ‘Enhance Fitness and Health’, Joe’s reputation meant he was barely settled before some more ‘big hitters’ came calling. Ulster Rugby were alerted and he accepted a DCAL funded Regional Fitness Development Officer position while Jim McGuinness talked him into a consultancy role with his All Ireland winning Donegal team.
So having tasted the ‘high life’ what made Joe find his way to Judges Road and City of Derry?
“After funding ran out for the Ulster post, I was planning to concentrate on my own business but got chatting to Terry (McMaster) and Moss (Dineen, Derry’s Director of Rugby) and liked what they had to say about the club and I’m really enjoying it which is down to the players
“My biggest focus is always attitude. If you can get the players on board and they believe in what they are doing, it makes a huge difference. When I came to the club, it didn’t really have a structure in place but it was great that they found the initiative and funds to get set up in the Foyle Arena which has given everyone a focus; a place where the players can come in and work.
“We had a good eight week pre-season in there and we set the tone in those sessions. From then, everyone has bought into it and we’ve carried it on to the pitch so it has been fantastic.”
And the results have been very apparent. Eights wins from nine AIL games (it should really have been nine from nine but for some ‘fantasy’ time-keeping in Munster!) and a more physical Derry who have stood up to every test thrown at them thus far. Crucially, injuries have also been kept to a minimum.
“Everything is entirely to the credit of the players. They turn up and do what’s asked of them and seem to be enjoying it which is the biggest things. At this level, yes, you want to be developing but you need to be enjoying it. I think they have that balance where they are moving forward but enjoying the work which is probably the biggest difference this season.”
As a Strength and Conditioning coach, you would expect Gallanagh to extol the virtues of his profession, a profession which is now as fundamental to rugby as basic ball skills.
“It can be the difference now between success and defeat. You can be out-muscled these days and have to be able to play the game with a certain degree of physicality. In some ways it’s as important as ball-playing talent because the teams today can smother pure talent if it’s not backed up by conditioning.
“We have been quite lucky with injuries this season but I think having the system in place where the players are looking after themselves that bit more has helped. Injury wise we have had a few contact injuries but not too many soft tissue injuries and having a big healthy squad is a big plus.
“From my point of view, even if I didn’t make them physically any better, if it helped keep the best players on the pitch and allows Terry to pick from a full squad of players that’s the job done.”
Derry’s own job is only half done. Nine points clear at the half-way stage is where they wanted to be. And if they manage to go on and meet their season’s target, it will be thanks in no short measure to the Aussie strength and conditioning coach who may have to reluctantly step out out of the shadows once more to accept some well deserved plaudits.