herald

Monday 25 September 2017

'Demeaning to query our manliness'

Maroon icon Connolly reckons there's a new breed of Galway hurler now coming through

Joe Canning of Galway celebrates with former Galway star John Connolly following the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final win over Waterford at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Canning of Galway celebrates with former Galway star John Connolly following the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final win over Waterford at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

The message came from different corners of the Citywest Hotel, before Liam MacCarthy began its long overdue journey back to Galway, but there was a recurring theme.

Galway didn't merely win an All-Ireland on Sunday. They did more than call time on 29 years in the wilderness. They lifted the yoke of oppression.

"If you're coming from a county that's lost finals," selector Francis Forde explained, "that becomes a burden. I think for Galway hurling teams that has become a burden, let's be honest.

"But I think the key is you channel that so it's not a burden, it's a driving force. I know that was in the commentary from the players; quite simply they were not going to let this happen again. I know that was said between Davy Burke, Johnny Coen, Joe Canning, even on the pitch: 'This is not happening again.'

"That pain, that hurt, these lads have been through probably drove them over the line."

Galway captain Joe Connolly lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after victory over Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway captain Joe Connolly lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after victory over Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

Inspired

Where, previously, that hurt may have weighed down generations who tried, and failed, to emulate the two-in-a-row heroes of the late '80s, it inspired Micheál Donoghue's team.

Now, finally, one-in-a-row is theirs. And the relief, yesterday, was palpable - even more so from the men who came before.

"​I think the stat is that, since we won the last senior in 1988, we had won 10 minors and six U21s and 12 All-Ireland club championships. That's mad stuff without winning an All-Ireland to back it up," admitted Joe Connolly, the man who lifted Liam MacCarthy in 1980 to end an even longer, 57-year, famine.

There followed a quick roll-call of the senior finals that got away in the nineties, noughties and, more recently, 2012 and '15.

"Your heart is in your county, pride in your county and what pundits have said about us over the years ... it's demeaning, for our lack of manliness to be questioned," Connolly complained.

"Whatever about our ability, it absolutely grates on me that people question when you pull this maroon jersey down over your head, that you're not at a mental state like the big counties or the other counties.

"That's what bugs more than anything and I hope to God after yesterday's performance, 12 games in a row of success, there might be a new breed of Galway hurler coming through, I think.

"We won the minor against the odds; we've won the senior maybe against the odds; our U21s even put up a superb performance against Limerick. There might be winds of change blowing in Galway hurling and a new kind of hurler coming through."

Francis Forde also alluded to the barbs that have followed past defeats. "As a county and a hurling team, we'd endured a lot and taken a lot of criticism," the selector pointed out.

"In fairness to the boys they haven't responded to it, they've taken it on the chin. Look, they're good lads, there'll be no one saying, 'We told you so.'"

The only way for Galway to answer that criticism was in a final that had to be won. "We absolutely had to," said Connolly.

Yet he then accepted Galway's own collective culpability for failing to end the rot earlier.

"It's our own fault in Galway, like, we have sat back and taken it," he admitted. "We have sleep-walked through about 30 years in Galway, I believe. We haven't been at the races as regards preparation and whatever like that. We had to make a statement."

Galway Bay FM were broadcasting live from Citywest yesterday. Last Wednesday they ran another pre-final show, with Connolly among the participants. "There were five of us on it," he said, "and Noel Lane was one of them.

"He made the comment that 'Look who is up here - Joe Connolly, Conor Hayes, Cyril Farrell, Pete Finnerty, Noel Lane - we're fed up of being the spokesmen for Galway hurling.' We should be the teams that people longingly look back on in the past and say, 'Wasn't it great?' We don't want to be at the fore of talk about Galway hurling. It's for new generations to take over the mantle.

"It's hurt greatly to see the failures and good lads ... the three years I was with the Galway team (under John McIntyre), our full-back line, the four that we picked from were Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, Fergal Moore and Ollie Canning.

"You couldn't find finer men and it upsets me that their ilk and the others, for the last 30 years that have finished their careers, did so without winning an All-Ireland. I always love a team to have a day in the sun, as I hope Mayo will do on Sunday week," he concluded.

Sin famine eile.

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