Euro 2020: Rise and rise of Scotland's Declan Gallagher - prison, fatherhood and role of mentor Jim Duffy

No one could interpret Declan Gallagher's career as being a case of too much, too soon. He has little problem appreciating everything he has now.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 27: Scotland's Declan Gallagher is pictured as Scotland depart for Spain from Glasgow Airport, on May 27, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

The defender, who turned 30 earlier this year, has recently completed his biggest move to date by signing for Aberdeen. He is also set to represent his country at Euro 2020.

He has already lived a life. He has overcome setbacks in his career and endured significant challenges on a personal level.

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It says everything when the oldest outfield player in the squad still cannot recall Scotland’s last appearance at a major finals. Gallagher just hopes Shay, his six-year-old daughter, will retain memories of her father playing at this level. It’s less likely Ashton, his three-month old son with wife Nikki, will be able to conjure up memories – although the family are planning to bring him to the first game v Czech Republic at Hampden.

BELGRADE, SERBIA - NOVEMBER 12: Scott McTominay of Scotland and Declan Gallagher of Scotland celebrate after the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Final between Serbia and Scotland at Rajko Mitic Stadium on November 12, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

“They say things come in three,” said Gallagher. “I became a dad again, I’ve moved to a new club and now I’m in the Euros squad.

“I’m just delighted, words can’t describe how happy I am for myself and for my family who take great joy in any success. My career has gone from strength to strength.

“I can’t believe I’m the oldest outfield player in the squad – I think I look like the youngest,” he added, after his senior status was put to Gallagher – only David Marshall, Craig Gordon and Jon McLaughlin, the goalkeepers, are older.

“I genuinely can’t remember France 98. But listen, I head balls for a living, so it’s easy to see why I don’t remember things.”

DUMBARTON, SCOTLAND - MAY 11: Dumbarton manager Jim Duffy during a Scottish League One play-off semi final second leg match between Dumbarton and Stranraer at C&G Systems Stadium, on May 11, 2021, in Dumbarton, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

There are some events he would prefer to block out. His current total of eight caps, all won since November 2019, underlines the late flowering nature of his career.

One reason for this is the enforced break he endured from 2016 after being jailed for a horrendously violent episode that saw Gallagher and an accomplice handed a three-year sentence for assault. He served 16 months, initially at Saughton prison in Edinburgh.

The offence was committed while he was with Dundee but by the time of his trial, he had moved to Livingston. They stood by him, re-signing him while he was out on bail amid considerable public criticism.

Gallagher had already resurrected his career once after being released by Celtic as a teenager. He credits another centre-half, former Dundee player Jim Duffy, with helping him get back on track at Clyde, then in the bottom tier.

At a time when the likes of Willie Miller and Alex McLeish were in the queue ahead of him, Duffy’s only international honour was as an over-aged captain of the Under-21s. Gallagher does not have quite the same calibre of rival, nor is he as stylish a player as Duffy was in his pomp. He is, however, reaping the rewards, if belatedly, of listening intently to those who are qualified to offer good advice.

“He (Duffy) said he would help my career by working with me closely,” he said. “He was a tough centre-half himself and something just told me it was the right move. Working under Jim really pushed me on.

“I owe a huge debt of thanks to him because he really gave me the belief that I could get myself back to the top. He gave (Dundee manager) Barry Smith the recommendation that got me back into the top divisions.”

Gallagher says he is still “pinching myself”. He added: “I was League One with Livingston, I was playing part-time for Stranraer and Clyde and the next thing you know I’m at a Euros."

He is not the first footballer to play for Scotland after serving time in jail. It’s often forgotten that Duncan Ferguson earned two caps after his spell in Barlinnie before then calling time on his international career.

But Gallagher is the first to potentially play in a major finals. The word potentially is chosen advisedly, because it’s far from certain who out of Steve Clarke’s crop of six centre-backs will occupy the three berths available in the team.

With Scott McTominay likely to be employed in midfield, and Kieran Tierney almost guaranteed to be at left centre-half providing he is fit, the choice is narrowed down to two from Gallagher, Jack Hendry, Liam Cooper, Scott McKenna and Grant Hanley. Eight months ago, it was Gallagher who seemed nailed on to be first-choice at the heart of the defence this summer. After all, he had just got the better of Serbian centre-forward Aleksandar Mitrovic on a night of nights in Belgrade as Scotland secured their finals place with a shootout win v Serbia.

“You see all the videos on social media and you can’t help but think back to that night,” Gallagher reflected. “It was a special night and the fact I played such a big part means the world to me. I was obviously thankful to the manager for putting me in the team that night and thankfully I got the job done.”

He has since lost his place in the side. He looked on from the bench in March as Scotland, with Hanley playing in the centre of a three-man defence, opened their World Cup qualifying campaign with two draws and a win against Austria, Israel and the Faroe Islands. Gallagher did not see so much as a minute of action after starting five of the previous six internationals. He did come on for the last half an hour of Wednesday’s 2-2 friendly draw against the Netherlands.

Injury, loss of form and a contractual situation which briefly put Gallagher on the sidelines at Motherwell were all factors in what proved a disappointing end to an otherwise remarkable season.

Aberdeen were then accused of prematurely announcing his pre-contract move to the Pittodrie club. It seemed unnecessary since Gallagher knows as well as anyone the true value of patience.

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