Man On: With Austin FC’s Jon Gallagher

Jon Gallagher

EDITORIAL – By his own admission, Jon Gallagher used to be a tiny kid. When they could get near him, the older boys would try and muscle him off the ball. His technical ability and pace usually won out. Gallagher isn’t tiny anymore, but not much else has changed. As the bustling, pacey, defense-stretching No. 9 in Verde, the Irishman continues to terrorize opposition players. He recalls those early years fondly, though.

Man On: With Austin FC’s Jon Gallagher

LWOS: What was the first team you remember being on?

Gallagher: Probably under sevens. Playing with my local town team which was two minutes walk from my house. I could jump the fence and run over. It was called Rock Celtic. I remember my dad bought me these awful pair of Reebok boots, and I loved them because they were metal studs, so I was like, ‘this is what all professionals wear’. I played in my age group till I got to about 12, then I started playing up. I was so small, I was always the shortest on the team, but I was really fast and technically was above most of the kids my age at that time.

It was eye-opening because I’d been running rings around my age group. Then, against kids that were bigger I had to kind of learn a new side of the game, be smarter with my spacing because some of those kids could run as fast as me, so I had to use my brain a bit more. At the time I hated it because it was really frustrating going from one end of the spectrum to the other. It’s cliché, but it helped so much in the long run in terms of my development.

LWOS: Did you have any particular influences when you were younger, players you really looked up to and would try to copy how they played?

Gallagher: I went through a phase of loving Cristiano Ronaldo during his time at Manchester United. I grew up into a United household so having all these games on TV, naturally I gravitated towards him. I had probably four or five Cristiano Ronaldo shirts. I had his Portugal shirt and used to wear that to school all the time and get bullied for only wearing soccer shirts to class!

After that, I started to play different positions and was like, “I don’t play like any of these people”, and my dad was like, “well, that’s because they don’t play like any other people. They’re all their own player. You’ve got to mold your own image”. I think I was maybe 13 or 14 at the time, and even then, I realized he had a point!

LWOS: You mention having played different positions, which you’ve done throughout your career. Why do you think that is, and has there been any intentionality on your part to try to be so versatile?

Gallagher: Yeah, it’s a blessing and it’s a curse.  At times in my career, it’s worked wonders where I’m always available to the manager and can be put in wherever. Other times it’s just like, ‘well we’ve got him in case something happens to that guy or that guy, he can do those jobs’, so I’ve been on both sides. You know I tried to take that as a compliment.

Personally, I never wanted to play all these positions. I’ve always watched a lot of football even when I was a kid, so I understand a lot of positions. Coaches haven’t always told me how to play different positions, though. For example, when I was playing right-back with Atlanta, they were like “we like you because you’re tenacious, you can run all day, and you can get forward really well”, but they never taught me how to defend. So, I’d be put in a game and going one by one against the attacker and usually, I’d love that but now I’m on the other side of it and so I might end up just fouling him or something! So yeah, you can become a victim of your own versatility sometimes. I definitely think I’m more comfortable in the attacking third, anywhere across the front three.

LWOS: Before you went pro, you had a successful college career at, where else, Notre Dame. How did you find yourself with ‘The Fighting Irish’?

Gallagher: I’d been told by Blackburn Rovers that I wasn’t going make it as a pro there. At 17 years old that’s not an easy thing to be told because back home you go to university or you keep trying to play football, you don’t really have both options. It was tough. I remember being on the train home and waited like two hours before calling my dad because it was a bit embarrassing; you don’t want to feel like you’ve let your dad down.

But he was like, “you want to play football, so just keep going”. He just said to me, “what do you think about going to the States?”, because we previously lived in Connecticut when I was 12 to 14. We thought I could get a scholarship and play while I got my degree.

So, during lunchtimes at school, I would go to the library to use the computer and Google top schools in America. I emailed every single coach at the top 20 schools my resume and my film. One of those I heard back from was Bobby Clarke, the head coach at Notre Dame. He said he really liked me as a player but had never recruited somebody from outside the country, so he basically said no!

Eventually, after I sent him film of full games and loads more clips, he invited me to a camp where there were going to be lots of other good schools, like Georgetown, and Michigan State. So, I come on at halftime and with my first touch, I chipped the keeper from just inside the opposition half! I was like, okay like this good; give me a scholarship! I committed two weeks after that. Notre Dame is a special place, you just feel it. It’s like that famous saying by Lou Holtz, “Those who know Notre Dame, no explanation’s necessary. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.”

LWOS: A more recent goal scoring high was opening your account for Austin FC. Then, a few days later, you picked up an injury that meant you had to miss the next game. What’s that like as a pro, dealing with injuries and having to stay mentally strong?

Gallagher: It’s tough. Thankfully, touch word I’ve not had a ton of injuries to deal with in my career. This one was slight, like you said it was more just the timing of it. You start a game at the weekend, and then you get hurt the following week during a simple small-sided drill that every football team does. I tried running Friday before the LA Galaxy game but in the back of my head, I’m thinking I know there’s no way I’m playing tomorrow. My fiancé had just gotten to Austin and moved in, so she had to deal with me being miserable! She’s been great, though. She gets it.

Every moment of the day was focused on getting back healthy. I was sitting on the couch with an ultrasound machine hooked up to my calf for four hours, then I would roll-stretch it out. After dinner, into a compression sleeve and a recovery boot, then an Epsom salt bath and then ice it, stretch it again and then bed – and repeat the next day. It’s tough because you turn on the TV and see all your teammates at the game, and you’re getting text from friends, like, ‘Where are you? What happened?’, and you don’t want to talk about it. Football waits for nobody at the end of the day, the games just keep going. That’s why you need to be resilient and look after yourself as best you can.

LWOS: So, to that goal! A wonderful cross from Jared Stroud set you up, you take a touch, and then drill the ball into the bottom corner – what are you feeling at that very moment?

Gallagher: I’d been having this feeling for a few days leading up to the game that something good was going to happen. I had good chances in LA to score the inaugural goal, but their keeper made some unbelievable saves. Then, of course, you start to get in your own head, and you’re wondering if it’s going to happen? I woke up that day feeling like, ‘I’m going to score tonight.’  I told Jared before the game, “When you get the ball out wide early, look”. We’d watch some film on their defense, so I said, “Just put it anywhere in front of the goal and I’ll get there. Make that the first thing you do!”

I really couldn’t have asked for a better ball. When the goal went in, it was just a relief. Scoring a goal normally is just the best feeling in the world. It’s what we live for. I’ve definitely pictured scoring when we get back to Austin, like when I’m sitting in the shower, you know, daydreaming. I say I’ll do this celebration or whatever, but I’ll end up losing control and just screaming!