Celtic Sales LTD is a packaging company based out of Blanchardstown in West Dublin. As I walk in the back door through the bustling warehouse, I am met by the metronomic sound of reversing forklifts and the sweet smell of pine from the dozens of pallets. It is here where I first meet 22-year-old employee Luke Gallagher. “Well Oisin,” he says, as he finishes wrapping a pallet of what must be 20 cardboard boxes, “What’s the craic?”
Just three years ago Luke Gallagher was training with and involved in Burnley Football Club’s first team squad, but like so many other aspiring youth players he was released by his club at end of the 2013/2014 season. “It was very tough to take” he explains. “because when I came home then I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue on with football or not”. It’s a dark side of the game that we hear about none too often.
According to the PFA, 75% of professional footballers under the age of 21 who find themselves without a contract fall out of football for good. A frighteningly high percentage. Gallagher was disappointed but at the same time told me “he really enjoyed Burnley”. “The final year wasn’t great obviously because I got let go but leading up to that I really enjoyed it like my time around the first team seeing how much of a step up it was in quality and fitness every aspect of the game so I really enjoyed it.”
As he talks me through this tough period in his life, there is never an aura of negativity about him. There is a sense of determination in his tone of voice, as if he will not let this one bump in the road define him and his career. Shortly after his release Gallagher received some good news which made him think twice about giving up on his dream of life as a professional footballer. “After I got released I got called up for one of the Ireland Under 21 trips so that sort of made me think maybe it’s not over yet. I thought I’ll give it a go back home (League of Ireland) so then I went and signed for Shelbourne and that was my next step then along the journey”
To return to Ireland was undoubtedly a huge gamble for Gallagher. “I just didn’t want to be away after my release” he tells me. “I just wanted to be around friends and family”. For Gallagher, you get the sense that family is a very important aspect of his life.
“I’ve always had a great family behind me, backing me with the football” he says. “My mam and dad have always supported me through it. I’ve had cousins, aunties, uncles always supporting me”. He also speaks fondly of his nephew who, he tells me, is a promising young Gaelic player. “I think he plays in goal for the Meath underage team so he’s doing very well and he’s always looked up at me”. he smiles “Hopefully he’s the superstar in a few years”
With the support of his family behind him Luke is currently trying to balance his job as a warehouse operative at Celtic Sales with his football career at First Division side Drogheda United. “At the start I thought it was tough just to start getting used to the fulltime work and training as well at the same time. I thought I was getting very tired and feeling lethargic then in the evenings or when I went training, but it’s all about getting used to it and getting into a routine”.
His ability to adapt to this new-found routine means that now, after a difficult year at Bray, Gallagher is enjoying his time at United Park. Drogheda secured promotion to the top flight, at the beginning of November after 3-2 aggregate victory over Wexford Youths. “Yeah I’m actually really enjoying my football at Drogheda” he says, through the same smile he wore when discussing his nephew. “I’ve started to play centre half again, I’ve enjoyed it and we’re going well in the season now, we’re in the playoffs and can hopefully push on and get promotion”
For Gallagher his career has been dominated by Irish football. He began here as a six-year-old at his local club, Tolka Rovers and before he left for the lure of English football he had a glittering schoolboy career at Dublin giants Home Farm and Cherry Orchard. He is however, realistic about where the true success is to be had. “Yeah I’d still love to go back away to England” he tells me “It’s where the real money is. In terms of Irish football, it’s where I’m at now and I’m playing well for Drogheda United so I’m happy to be at that club but”, he concludes “I would never turn down the opportunity of going away”