As Malin’s Niall Gallagher prepared to enter the fray as a late substitute in the closing stages as the sun was setting on Hibernian Park in Burt yesterday evening, his side were on their way out of the County Minor League Division 1 at the county semi-final stage.
In the year that is in it, the traditional competition was reconfigured, with Inishowen winners Malin being paired with northern champions Gaoth Dobhair in the semi-final. Four Masters won the south and gained a bypass to the final.
Last November, at 16 years of age, Niall was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and has spent more time at the Denis Burkitt ward at St James’ Hospital in Dublin than at home in Malin Head since.
He was feeling usually tired and spent the night in the haematology ward in Letterkenny University Hospital where it was discovered he had organ swelling so he was rushed to Dublin.
Niall, who captained Malin to the all-county under 14 Division 1 title, began a three-year programme consisting of chemotherapy, steroids and other medications. Fundraising back at home was incredible, with donations given, heads shaven, football matches arranged and table-quizzes sat – over €50,000 was raised within a matter of days.
On a cold February night, because of his condition and immune system, a few strings were pulled by Malin chairman Pat McLaughlin and a former Malin player, John Doherty (Edward), who is current chairman of Shankill GAA club in Dublin to get Niall and his family to see Donegal’s Allianz League Division 1 fixture against Dublin at Croke Park.
Complimentary tickets – the best in the house – were arranged for Niall, his dad Brendan and younger brothers Oisin and Finn to stay out of the cold. Afterwards they were welcomed by the Donegal panel into the dressing room area thanks to Donegal’s logistics man Paddy McDyer.
“On behalf of Niall and his family we wish to thank everyone who made all of this possible, Pat McLaughlin, John Doherty, Paddy McDyre, Croke Park, the entire Donegal squad and backroom team, and a special thank you to Michael Murphy, Hugh Mc Fadden, Ryan Mc Hugh and Jamie Brennan,” Malin GAA posted at the time.
When her son was back in the colours of Malin recently, Niall’s mother Kathleen posted a message to portray the family’s gratitude. She said: “We as a family are eternally grateful to you all. Niall’s friends should get an extra special thanks, what an amazing group of lads.
“You are all wonderful young men who were there when Niall needed you the most and still are. Your parents should be very proud of you all. I know we are. We would like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you for all your support and generosity. Thanks for all the calls, texts, prayers and mass intentions.
“You will never know how much we have appreciated this and continue to do so.”
“Niall has now entered the last but longest phase of treatment. It will last for another two and a half years. He will continue with monthly trips to St James’ as well as oral chemotherapy daily. Niall still has a long road in front of him but most importantly he is on the right road.”
In a recent interview with The Irish News, Malin club chairman and secretary of the Inis Eoghain Divisional Board Pat McLaughlin described Niall as “an inspirational young man”.
Niall played cameo roles in Malin’s divisional progression and although his side were well-beaten in Burt yesterday evening – Gaoth Dobhair were 3-19 to 0-4 winners – sometimes there’s more important things in life than winning and losing on a football field.
Niall Gallagher is proving that.