- By Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jon Gallagher’s refuge was soccer.
No matter where his father’s work-related travels took the family – Ireland, the United States, Jamaica or Singapore – a pick-up game or club would bring a ready-made group of friends and camaraderie.
It didn’t hurt that Gallagher was good, really good, at soccer. He was so good that he became an All-American at Notre Dame and was selected 14th in last week’s MLS SuperDraft by Atlanta United.
“Soccer was always a tool, whether it was fitting in or just feeling comfortable, said Gallagher, a native of Ireland. “I always used it as a tool to re-integrate myself wherever I moved.”
The Gallaghers -- father, mother and Jon the oldest of four siblings -- have seen a lot of the world because of Paul the patriarch’s job with Guinness. Yes, Jon’s father works for Ireland’s most famous export.
Paul Gallagher tried his hand at soccer, but wasn’t good enough. He realized when Jon was 7 or 8 years old that his son may have a future in the sport.
“You saw a sparkle,” Paul Gallagher said. “Something different from the other kids. It’s just not about having that sparkle in a small group, but you have to shine brightly across a bigger area.
“That was what we did see. Every time he didn’t just stand up, he set the standard for everyone else to follow.”
As they traveled, that sparkle helped Jon earn trials with some of the world’s famous clubs: Juventus, Marseille, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers.
While living in the United States, Gallagher began to realize the potential of playing college soccer and how it could help him earn an education and possibly become a professional.
The family moved again, and Gallagher was in boarding school in England when he began to pursue his plan by playing college soccer in the U.S.
So, he started cold-calling coaches. Those who expressed interest were sent highlight videos of Gallagher’s work.
Bobby Clark at Notre Dame was interested, but said he doesn’t always trust video.
The family moved back to the U.S., and Gallagher began playing for a good club team in Connecticut. While playing in a tournament in Maryland, Clark asked a friend to scout Gallagher. The friend liked what he saw.
The Fighting Irish eventually offered him a spot.
“Hard to say no,” Gallagher said.
Paul Gallagher said Jon has been fortunate throughout his career to be injury-free and play for great coaches. Clark was another.
Gallagher was put in positions to succeed. And succeed he did, scoring three goals and notching three assists in 21 games as a freshman to make the All-ACC freshman team. He scored nine goals as a sophomore, 14 as a junior to be named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and 13 as a senior. He finished his Irish career ranked sixth in school history in goals (39) and ninth in points (93).
One of those goals came in 2016 when Gallagher’s shot with 18 seconds lifted No. 3 Notre Dame past No. 2 Syracuse, featuring Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson.
“We haven’t talked about that game yet,” Robinson said. “It was a heartbreaking loss for Syracuse, for sure.”
Clark said Gallagher was driven. He would return to school every summer so that he could attend classes and graduate in 3-1/2 years. Why 3-1/2 years? Because Gallagher wanted to make sure that if he were drafted, he would already have his degree. He graduated.
He would also return to improve as a player. Clark said Gallagher would take a bag of balls to the field and work on finishing and strengthening his weaker foot. Though not big (5-foot-9), Clark said Gallagher worked on his strength and probably was pound-for-pound the strongest player on the team.
“He’s very strong mentally,” Clark said. “He wanted it. He always wanted it.”
Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra described Gallagher as a grinder, a worker and someone who is very fit. Clark compared Gallagher with Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, whose speed and finishing ability have catapulted him from a former amateur to the English national team.
“If the right people can play balls in behind, he will run all day for them,” Clark said of Gallagher.
The Gallaghers were able to travel to see a lot of Jon’s games in college. They already are planning trips to see Jon as a professional.
It remains to be seen if Gallagher will play for the first team, or spent most of his time with Atlanta United 2 in the USL. The first team has Josef Martinez and Romario Williams as strikers, with Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron capable of playing the position.
Bocanegra has said that it’s up to all the players to prove their worth and fight for minutes.
Wherever Gallagher plays – and he’s used to taking advantage of wherever he may be – his family couldn’t be more pleased.
“Very exciting for him and exceptionally proud of what he’s done, not just his football ability, but the man he’s become,” Paul Gallagher said.