Rory Gallagher not surprised by Meath 'bounce' under Colm O'Rourke - especially after his hidden agenda!

​Derry manager Rory Gallagher has a bone to pick with his Meath counterpart Colm O'Rourke when the counties go head to head in Owenbeg this Saturday (5pm).
It will be Derry senior football appearance No. 102 for Chrissy McKaigue against Meath this Saturday. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 146It will be Derry senior football appearance No. 102 for Chrissy McKaigue against Meath this Saturday. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 146
It will be Derry senior football appearance No. 102 for Chrissy McKaigue against Meath this Saturday. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2305GS – 146

The Meath legend's July 2022 appointment was a surprise to many, O'Rourke having previously ruled himself out of the race to succeed Andy McEntee. The Simonstown Gaels club man has become a regular visitor in sitting rooms up and down the country as a mainstay of 'The Sunday Game' where he sat on All Ireland Final day, only two days before his unveiling by the Meath Co. Board.

Beside O'Rourke in the RTE studio that night was Derry manager, Gallagher and, after picking out the minutiae from Kerry's victory over Galway, the pair chatted about the season gone and expectations for the year to come, a memory which now has Gallagher smiling when he thinks back to it.

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"I wasn't surprised at all that Colm took the job because he was obviously involved with St. Pat's Navan and a few other roles over the years," explained the Oak Leaf boss, "He's had a number of stints with Simonstown. He's kept his hand in and was never shy about it being an ambition of his to manage Meath.

Rory Gallagher, Derry Senior Football team manager. DER2212GS – 009Rory Gallagher, Derry Senior Football team manager. DER2212GS – 009
Rory Gallagher, Derry Senior Football team manager. DER2212GS – 009

"He played it quite cool though in the run up to getting it, you know. I was doing 'The Sunday Game' with him on the night of the All Ireland Final and he was asking when would Derry be back training and things like that. Then, two days later he's announced as Meath manager, so he had a hidden agenda (laughing)! But, no, it was all in good jest," smiled Gallagher.

"He has them going well and obviously they got a bounce from the new management coming in, but more specifically from it being Colm O'Rourke. He's been a real Meath legend and someone who has had an awful lot of success on the playing field and then with schools and clubs.

"I suppose we have got used to seeing him on 'The Sunday Game' so I would give him great credit for making the big jump and it's been so far, so good for Meath."

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Both counties go into Saturday's encounter on the back of two wins from their opening two games, Meath hitting seven goals in victories over Cork and Clare, something Gallagher says Derry are acutely aware of.

"Listen, they played brilliantly down in Cork, because Cork had been at a really good level," he adds, "They probably didn't play as well against Clare but still scored four goals and won the game so they've passed their tests and they have always got some dangerous forwards as the scores would tell you.

"They have identified a goalkeeper there last year who I think strengthens them but, look, they'll not be happy with where they been in comparison to their big rivals, Dublin and they are naturally going to improve."

Despite Meath's impressive start, Derry will go int the game as favourites. Victories over promoted counties Limerick and Louth arrived before the break week which has allowed the Derry management team to finally get to work with a full Oak Leaf panel.

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"I think everyone enjoys that week's break at that stage of the year," explained the Derry boss.

"They look forward to it. No matter what, it's still pretty early doors after the first two league games. Obviously with us having to get the Glen lads integrated fairly late on, it's no harm at all to let everyone recharge.

"We made use the time we had. We gave some members of the squad the week off from the Sunday to the Saturday but we had everyone at the weekend. Tuesday then we were out and back out tonight (Thursday).

"It was our first chance this year to have everyone together, fit and available and we're now in a good place fitness wise."

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Saturday's meeting will be the second between the counties in less than 12 months after Derry's final day, two point victory in Navan which last season proved insufficient as Derry became the first county of the modern format not to be promoted with 11 points from seven games.

This season - aside from Derry and Meath - Dublin are the only other county with maximum points from the opening games and Gallagher is expecting almost championship intensity as the division progresses, especially with the threat of the Tailteann Cup hanging over teams.

"Last year was a bit of a shoot out between the two teams," he adds, "We were in cruise control a bit and they were quite fortunate to still be in the game but it was a game in which ultimately they had little to play for and we were clutching at straws with promotion. This year is a new year and this will be a clean sweep. We came up the road happy enough with our character but it was very much focused on the Championship at that stage.

"The games do get bigger and the reality is the Tailteann Cup is lurking in the background, ready for any county which doesn't perform well in Division Two.

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"Every point is hard earned, we've seen that against Limerick and Louth. In some ways it is good to get the promoted teams but in other ways it's bad because they're obviously going to come at you full steam with lots of bravado which naturally the two teams did.

"Meath, Kildare, Dublin and ourselves over the next few weeks will want to be in the shake up for promotion and want to push on so it's going to be dogged."