Gary Fallon is one of the most experienced players in the Athleague set-up and it was no real surprise when he decided to dip his toes into management. However, his change from outfield to becoming the team’s goalkeeper this year was a surprise. Now Gary doubles up as the team’s player-manager.
He has been talking recently about taking up both roles this year. On the management front, Gary said Athleague wanted to get someone from within the club this year. It was, he revealed, “a big struggle” to get a manager at the start of the year.
“It is a big commitment, in fairness” the player-manager said, alluding to the pressures people have, including on the family front and with work. When he was offered the role, the fact that he was already committed as a player influenced his thinking.
“I thought about it. I said I would be doing it anyway when I’m playing, I would be giving the commitment anyway. I said I would give it a go and try it out. We have brought in a lot of younger players this year and I’m proud of that”.
As to the switch to the role of goalkeeper, he explained how that came about.
“Davy Connell was in with the county earlier on in the year and wasn’t available, so in league games and junior games we tried a few lads in goal. It’s not a position for everyone. With me and my experience outfield, a few of the lads were trying to push me into doing it. I just thought about it and said I would give it a crack and see. I said if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out.
“I have been training with Davy Connell. As you know, he has been playing in goal for Athleague for almost 30 years. It’s a difficult position to play in but it’s going okay so far”.
How is Gary finding the experience of picking the team and then going out on to the field and playing alongside them?
“The lads understand. They know I’m a young manager and it’s my first year. So it’s easy in a way because they are all your mates and you have been playing with them for years. They understand I’m only doing what’s best for the team. Some lads will get thick and will get the hump! If lads aren’t thick it’s a bad sign. If lads are thick that they aren’t playing then it’s a sign that things are going in the right direction. Lads will get annoyed but they get over it. They just have to. We just get on with it”.
Their extra-time win against Oran in the semi-final was a blessing in disguise for Athleague according to the player-manager.
“We probably learned more in the semi-final than in all the other games in the championship…as to how we are going. You do need the tough games going into the final and I am happy we got a hard test. We got to see what the character of the team is like. You see us getting the late free and ploughing on then in extra-time”.
Naturally, he has huge respect for Sunday’s opponents. “Four Roads have always been our biggest rivals. Well, Four Roads and Tremane! Four Roads are a serious team. Everyone in the county can see they are going hammer and tongs for this. But from our point of view there are a lot of lads in that dressing room with county medals and we know what it takes to win a county final. So I don’t think they have any fear of Four Roads, but they are an exceptional team.
“Shane Curley (manager) has done a serious job with them. We will be going in as major underdogs. We hope to do our best. They will be red-hot favourites and we will have it all to do to beat them. We will try our best to see how it goes and see can we get things right on the day. We need everything to go one hundred percent just to beat them.
“I wouldn’t say our lads would be too nervous about a county final… you look at the starting team the last day and nearly every lad on that team has a county medal and many have played in county finals, so it’s not a new thing to us. Young lads have underage medals so they are used to it. We will be giving it everything” he concluded.