Dec. 8, 2016
By Nick Beals `18
A love of soccer has taken Notre Dame men’s soccer junior forward Jon Gallagher across the world. He has played on teams in Ireland, England, Singapore and the United States.
ACC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
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He has had trials with some of the most recognizable professional clubs in soccer. He has been a winner and standout at every level. No matter the situation, Gallagher’s work ethic and focus has never wavered. It is this dedication that brought him to Notre Dame to play Division I soccer, and just this season earned him ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors. For Gallagher, soccer has allowed him to experience the world, and the best seems yet to come.
“I’ve been really fortunate. It’s been a really cool experience,” Gallagher said. “I’ve gotten to see the world, which has shaped my personality by seeing all these different cultures and living with different people.”
Growing up in Ireland established Gallagher’s love for soccer at an early age. There was an appeal to the game that, for Gallagher, seemed both natural and addicting.
“I always had a ball at my feet,” he said. “My parents always used to yell at me when I was younger for creating marks on the wall from kicking the ball at 6:00 in the morning.”
As a result of Gallagher’s father’s job, he lived in five different countries growing up. While living in Singapore, Gallagher played for the International Soccer Academy, where he was voted MVP in back-to-back seasons and also the best male player in his second year playing for the U18 team at the age of 15. For Gallagher, playing with older competition helped him develop into the player he is today.
“It forced me to play quick,” he said. “It helped me to really focus on the technical side of the game, rather than being physical.”
Playing on the men’s team with teammates aged anywhere from 18 to 30, however, did not come without its strange moments.
“After one game, I was sitting in the locker room and they (his teammates) were talking about their kids,” Gallagher said. “They asked me how I was doing, and I told them, `I have homework tonight.’ It was funny.”
While attending prep school in England, Gallagher played for the National England Schoolboys U18 team and was voted MVP in back-to-back seasons. He also earned unpaid training trials with clubs such as Juventus FC, Olympique Marseille, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. The trials varied in their length.
One such trial was a brief stint with Juventus FC in Singapore. Gallagher was invited by a scout to train with the team.
“That was an awesome experience because the players were so good,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be playing against players who probably have gone on to have pro careers right now.”
Gallagher had other trials that were quite longer, and was able to experience as an amateur the full-time training that comes with a professional soccer career. These longer trials came with clubs like Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers.
“It was a very cool experience getting a taste of how professionals live,” Gallagher said. “I was only 16 at the time, and these guys had already been pulled out of school and were living the life of professionals. They woke up in the morning and trained and would then have the rest of the day free.”
While this experience was enriching as a player, it also helped Gallagher to understand the commitment and dedication needed to succeed at the game’s highest level.
“You realize just how hard you have to work to become one of the best,” Gallagher said. “I had grown up playing on teams where I was always the star, and then all of the sudden I had been put into this crop of players where everyone is just as good as the other. It hit me that I have so much further to go if I pursue this as a career.
“It wasn’t demoralizing,” he added. “It was more like a kick in the back that this was the realization. I need to make this happen. It was then that I developed the work ethic that I pride myself on. I like to be the hardest working guy on the field and in the locker room.”
As an Irish Catholic, Notre Dame was always a place that Gallagher believed would be a perfect fit on the field, in the classroom, and within the campus community.
“I didn’t want to put all of my eggs into one basket,” he said. “Coming from another country, I did not know exactly what to expect. I would reach out to schools, but it was always Notre Dame that I had my eyes set on.”
When Gallagher attended a Notre Dame summer soccer camp in order to play in front of the coaches, he knew that Notre Dame was where he had to go.
“As soon as I stepped foot on the campus, I was blown away. I had never seen anything like it,” he said. “When I saw the Notre Dame players (at the camp), walking around in their gear and being coaches of the camp, I said that I had to be in their shoes in two years. Luckily enough, I put in the hard work and am fortunate enough to be here now.”
Gallagher’s hard work has been evident by the strides he has made in each of his three college seasons. His 14 goals and 35 points this year led the ACC, and were the most scored by a Notre Dame player in a single season since the program joined the conference in 2013. Gallagher improved upon his 2015 recognition on the all-ACC third team by being named to the 2016 all-ACC first team, and he also copped all-region second team accolades for the second straight season.
Gallagher credits setting specific goals before each season as one of the reasons for his continual improvement.
“Every year I’ve had goals, and I tried to build upon those goals and become better and better,” he said. “Once I’ve achieved something, I’ve thought, `how much further can I go?’ It was first to play as a freshman. The next year it was to get a starting spot. Then it was to make an all-ACC team. I have to believe in myself that I can achieve it.”
Gallagher’s rise was further recognized by being named the 2016 ACC Offensive Player of the Year. In addition to his own dedication and goal setting, Gallagher credits his teammates for the roles they continue to play in the success he has achieved at Notre Dame.
“Every individual award is a team award,” Gallagher said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates for helping me in front of goal and making me look good.”
Gallagher’s global experiences with the game of soccer have been anything but ordinary. As such, he does not believe he would be the player he is today without them.
“I think about it all the time,” Gallagher said. “I always think about if I had been just like my friends back home in Ireland and had been living there my whole life. I definitely don’t think I would be here today at this school. I’m very lucky, and I count my blessings every morning. Sometimes I don’t realize it, and I get too caught up in everything and don’t realize just how fortunate I am to be at such a great school and playing for such a great program.”
For Gallagher, one thing that has remained constant throughout his career is his clear goal scoring ability. He has led the Irish in scoring the past two seasons by maintaining a scorer’s mentality, no matter the situation.
“I love scoring goals. I love the feeling of the ball hitting the net,” Gallagher said. “I feel like I have always had a knack for it, being good in front of goal and finding ways to take shots and have that confidence in myself.”
Gallagher attributes that confidence to the players around him. Although he has enjoyed traveling the world and playing with many different teammates, Gallagher is savoring the unique opportunities and friendships that his three years at Notre Dame have provided him.
“Trying to fit in with the team is important. I have such a great group of guys that I play with every day,” he said. “I can call them my best friends, which is something you don’t always get at other places around the country. I’m very fortunate. I think once you’re comfortable with the team, it’s easy to play.
“I’m also fortunate enough to hopefully walk away with a degree from this university,” Gallagher said. “A degree from Notre Dame is just an incredible thing to have. I thank Boss (head coach Bobby Clark) for letting me come here because without him, I wouldn’t be the player that I am today.”
Gallagher is finally living his dream at Notre Dame, and is emerging as one of the leaders on the team that he once dreamed to be a part of. He remains grateful for all of the opportunities provided to him by being a part of the Notre Dame community and men’s soccer team.
“I think I’m in the right place to improve myself and set myself up for success later in, hopefully, my professional career,” he said.