Saturday 20 October 2018

Galway gear up for Boston - with a boss and the cup this time

Galway’s Johnny Coen at the launch of the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic and Irish Festival. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Johnny Coen at the launch of the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic and Irish Festival. Photo: Sportsfile

When Galway last travelled to Boston for the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic, in 2015, they were without a manager.

When they return to Fenway Park on November 19 for the latest instalment of this 'Super 11s' exhibition, their luggage will include the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The contrasting scenario wasn't lost on Johnny Coen's inquisitors at this week's Fenway Classic launch. So, whether the Galway midfielder fancied delving back into that controversial player heave against Anthony Cunningham in late 2015, that's where the Q&A wandered.

After a lengthy impasse and a failed mediation process, Cunningham resigned as Galway manager shortly before his erstwhile team flew to Boston for the inaugural Fenway Classic against Dublin.

They travelled without a boss; veteran Galway kitman James 'Tex' Callaghan was among a trio taking charge.

"When we went over, we came back stronger for sure," says Coen. "You come together as a team ... we are together four times a week but this is a different setting. You are going over, you are enjoying yourself and playing the game that you love and it brings everyone together."

Two seasons on, Galway's 29-year All-Ireland famine now an historical footnote, it begs the question whether the players feel that their original stance has been vindicated.


Coen prefers not to view it through the prism of 2017. "At the time, we felt it was," he replies. "That was it, to be honest with you.

"It's not as if we were looking back saying it was a fantastic decision or anything like that - it was something nobody wanted to go through. I would have worked with Anthony since U21 and he brought us to the All-Ireland and we won it in 2011 against Dublin. He's given a lot to Galway hurling, he was a fantastic player as well, so I'd hope there's no hard feelings."

However, he accepts that it upped the pressure on the players to drive on under new boss Micheál Donoghue.

"It was one-in all-in and we rallied together obviously. Nobody really wanted to go through it," he reiterates, "but the team felt it was the right thing to do."

Speaking of doing the right thing, Galway might never have even reached September but for Coen's semi-final assist - to tee up Joe Canning for that point against Tipperary.

"My tongue was hanging out," he recalls, "it was the 74th minute. I was down on the '21' with a cramp and, all of a sudden, I had the ball that could have potentially won the match. I felt pressure on my left shoulder; Dan McCormack was chasing after me.

"When I turned around there was no better boy to give it to. I gave him the ball and he absolutely pinged it over the black spot. It was impeccable. It was perfect. I was goosed and I remember thinking 'get up, get back' because the puckout was coming.

"Yeah, it's funny like because people talk about that point that could have won the All-Ireland and, when you look back on it, people will never forget it."


As a first-time All-Ireland winner, Coen has noticed a change in public perception.

"In Loughrea there's more people waving at you and shaking your hand," he explains. "You've gone from an average enough fella around the town to, all of a sudden, young lads are looking up to you, mad for signing hurls and jerseys. And the more goodwill we can show for their support throughout the year, the better."

But last word on Fenway. Goodwill wasn't exactly the dominant theme as Galway and Dublin got stuck into each other during its first rendition two years ago.

"Yeah, we were told to promote the game and be good ambassadors!" he jests. "There were a few scenes, but no one went out with the intention of going fighting ... and I don't think we'll see anything like it again."

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