Nov. 18, 2014
When freshman Jeffrey Farina scored his first career goal to put Notre Dame up 1-0 in a 2-0 win over conference rival North Carolina, it was most fitting that the assist came from fellow freshman forward Jon Gallagher.
Over the season, the two have become best friends both on and off the field, and their chemistry is evident. Gallagher has assisted on both of Farina’s goals and Farina has an assist on both of Gallagher’s goals.
“I knew Jeff was there,” says Gallagher about the North Carolina score. “I could see him running, but I knew where he was going to be. I passed it to the near post and his finish was great.
“That was probably one of the better moments of the season when we thought, `We’re freshmen and we just scored a goal. There’s no reason we can’t be here.'”
In a successful veteran program, Farina and Gallagher have worked themselves into the regular rotation during their rookie year. They have both played in every game this season, usually checking in together. Farina has two goals and a team-high six assists, while Gallagher has two goals and three assists.
Last week, they both were named to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman Team after they helped Notre Dame win the league’s Coastal Division.
“Everyone was telling us that Notre Dame never plays freshmen, but I think we both came in with the mentality that there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to,” Gallagher says. “Obviously both of us are very competitive, so we didn’t listen.”
The two have learned to work with each other to capitalize on their individual strengths and playing styles. At 6’3, Farina is a physical presence on the field and in the air. When he wins and holds the ball, the speedy Gallagher runs off him.
“I don’t think I would be as effective if Jon wasn’t up front with me,” Farina says. “He’s the perfect complement to me. I’m not the fastest but he’s not the biggest.
“Playing in practice we grew together, and then playing in games we grew more. When the coaches started giving us more than 15 minutes a half, we realized they had confidence in us. Especially in games where we were tied or losing and they still put us in, I knew they had confidence in us.”
Fighting Irish head coach Bobby Clark has high praise for the freshman pair.
“The fun thing is the two of them really link well together,” Clark says. “They’re pals off the field, and they have a good relationship on the field. With a bit of luck, if they both can stay healthy, it could be fun to watch them throughout their college careers.”
Farina and Gallagher’s similar schedules keep them busy, going from class to practice to training tables to study hours. But the routine has helped them bond off the field and in their overall college experience.
“College has been kind of hard,” Farina says. “It’s not the soccer – more of the living with other people and the schoolwork. School has been a lot harder, a lot more studying, and not as much free time. We really have to spend our time well.”
In the free time they do make, the two are still together.
“Jeff and I are pretty good about time management,” Gallagher says. “We get things out of the way, and we like to treat ourselves for all of the hard work. We play video games together, we eat together and we watch movies together.”
But while Farina and Gallagher are often in the same place at Notre Dame, they come from different backgrounds.
Having grown up with the sport, Gallagher is originally from Dundalk, Ireland, a town an hour north of Dublin.
“I’ve only ever played soccer. In Ireland, soccer is everything,” he says. “My granddad was really into it, my dad played and my uncle did, too. Whenever I was with them, we’d always kick a ball around. Mom used to kill me for having the ball in the house all the time.”
Gallagher moved up through club teams, development programs and academies to earn international recognition. He had offers to sign contracts with teams in England, but at the last minute decided to pursue the collegiate route. An old club coach from when Gallagher played in Connecticut pointed him toward some American schools, and Notre Dame immediately attracted his attention.
“I valued the idea of playing high-level soccer and getting a high-level education,” Gallagher says. “I wanted an education from Notre Dame for when I finish my career. You never know with an injury or something when your career is going to end. It’s important to have something to fall back on.
“Obviously with me being Irish Catholic and this being an Irish Catholic school helps, too.”
Farina, on the other hand, is from Winnetka, Ill., and is the first in his family to play soccer. He spent some time with basketball too, but after making his first travel soccer team in kindergarten, he was hooked to the beautiful game.
He played for clubs and academies that helped him realize his goal of playing Division I soccer. When it came to considering different schools, Farina looked at the program, coaching staff, academics and location. Notre Dame quickly became his first choice.
“I was looking forward to the challenge of playing with a good team,” Farina says. “I didn’t want to just settle for a team I knew I could play on. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could play at a high level.”
In looking for a high level, Notre Dame was certainly a good place to come. The defending national champions enter the upcoming NCAA tournament as the overall top seed.
“The more I get to play, the more I get to see how good of a team we are,” Farina says. “I feel like we could beat anyone on any given day.”
This veteran team has taught the freshmen a lot about success and winning.
“The winning mentality they’ve shown us helps us,” Farina says. “Even if we win 4-1 but we don’t play well, everyone will be upset after the game. And then sometimes if we win an ugly game they’ll be happy. They taught me that winning isn’t always about playing well and winning, sometimes it’s about grinding out ugly games in order to win. That’s essential to becoming a champion.”
Their development has not gone unnoticed.
“They’ve had a terrific impact on the team this season, and they’ve grown during the season,” Clark says. “At the start of the year, they were two talented young soccer players, but they were playing on their own instincts. Now they’ve become part of the team, and that’s exciting, and it’s fun for them. They’ve really brought a lot to the team.”
Looking ahead to their run at a championship, Farina and Gallagher have high hopes. “We’re going to keep working hard because there’s so much more we can learn,” Gallagher says. “Between the guys and the coaches, we have amazing resources.
“I don’t see why we can’t go on and keep winning. We’re trying to make history.”
— Jennifer Prosser (’18)