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'I seemed to be the only one really hurting'

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SPECIAL DAY: Noel Lane (left) and Steve Mahon of Galway makes his way up the steps of the Hogan Stand after the 1980 All-Ireland hurling final win over Limerick at Croke Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPECIAL DAY: Noel Lane (left) and Steve Mahon of Galway makes his way up the steps of the Hogan Stand after the 1980 All-Ireland hurling final win over Limerick at Croke Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

SPECIAL DAY: Noel Lane (left) and Steve Mahon of Galway makes his way up the steps of the Hogan Stand after the 1980 All-Ireland hurling final win over Limerick at Croke Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Losing an All-Ireland final is a lonely place but as the reception dragged on following Galway's defeat to Kilkenny in the 1979 hurling decider, Cyril Farrell got the impression that he was the only one who was "really hurting".

A teetotaller all of his life, Farrell was unable to suppress the pain with alcohol and he made a vow to his late friend Roger Canning that things would be different if he were to take the helm having worked as trainer under Michael 'Babs' Keating that season.

"I don't drink but I seemed to be the only one that was really hurting. I remember going back to the flat with Roger and saying, 'If I'm ever over the team in Galway and if we get this far and lose, I won't be the only one hurting'," Farrell recalls.

"I remember saying that, 'They will be hurting so much that no matter what they drink, they won't be able to forget it and they'll feel it more than I will.' I know they were hurting but they were getting rid of the hurt.

"I'm not saying they were happy to lose but I definitely wasn't happy to see them that way. I had a feeling that no one else was feeling it; of course they were but I just had that feeling."

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Cyril Farrell is carried by Galway supporters. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell is carried by Galway supporters. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Cyril Farrell is carried by Galway supporters. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Pinnacle

Having managed the Galway minors to an All-Ireland final aged just 23 before helping the U-21 side to reach the pinnacle five years later in 1978, Farrell's pedigree was obvious but the opportunity to take the senior hot seat in '80 still took him by surprise.

He was teaching in St Joseph's of Fairview when the call came one Tuesday morning wondering if he would take the reins when Keating stepped aside and not considering the extraordinary commute involved from Dublin to Galway, he "jumped at it."

Ideas were already planted in his head about the way he would approach the job should the chance ever arise and age or hurling prowess "never dawned" on him despite being younger than many of the elder statesmen at just 30 and a self-proclaimed "ordinary club hurler".

Farrell knew what he wanted to do and "had lads earmarked to come through onto the team" from the U-21 squad when he first assembled the squad one that autumn - National League games commenced before Christmas back then - in Athenry for a puck-around.

A brief interaction on the pitch with the legendary Sylvie Linnane left him in doubt that the drive to succeed at all costs was there.

"We got tracksuits for the All-Ireland final and I remember saying to Sylvie, 'You should be wearing the tracksuit,' and he said, ''Tis freezing,' and I went back at him saying, 'I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about Galway'," he says. "Well, he turned around and put his hurl under my chin and he said, 'If you give me a chance, I won't let you down and I don't care where I play.' That's what I wanted to hear, he was mad for action."

Farrell had it pre-arranged that he would attack some senior players during a meeting in the dingy dressing-rooms, with John Connolly the first he was "going to pick on him because he was kind of the golden boy."

"I chaired a meeting, I sat on the table and I tackled some of the gods. The big thing was that if they couldn't do the training then they wouldn't be on the team, I didn't care who they were. I wanted to lay down the law," he says.

"I made everyone talk and I remember PJ Molloy was the last lad, he always sat in the corner and all of a sudden he jumped up and caught me. He lifted me up and I wasn't expecting. 'Are you telling us that we'll win the All-Ireland if we do what you say?' he said.

"I said, 'I'm telling you that if we are the fittest team in the country, we'll be the strongest and we will win'. He dropped me down and then the meeting was over. These lads had hurled all their life for Galway and all they wanted was an All-Ireland."

With nine final appearances passing since their first and only All-Ireland triumph in 1923, Farrell knew that things would have to change drastically and he had a few surprises in store after their first proper training session of 1980 on January 6 in Carnmore.

They played UCG in a challenge game which Farrell refereed before he took them for training and "covered them in muck". He admits that "you wouldn't do it now because it would be considered inhumane" but that was only the start of their hardship.

Farrell told the groundsman to scarper on the QT before the training concluded and "leave no hot water" for showers and he still gets a kick when recalling the story 40 years on.

"That time they wouldn't have had all the gear they have now and they came into the showers and there was only cold showers," he chuckles. "No tea, no food, no nothing, it was the start of the new regime.

"I was in a tracksuit and I was gone as well. We were training again on the Tuesday night and I could hear the boys saying, 'That little baldy effer. Where is he?' I was trying to say to them, the training this year will be different - 'I'll break ye first and then I'll make ye'."

He remembers the "savage" training regime like it was yesterday and recalls a conversation with Galway legend MJ 'Inky' Flaherty one night in Fahy's Field, part of UCG's sports grounds.

"Inky Flaherty was at training one night, he was a hardy boy and a boxer and everything but he came to me one night and said, 'You're going to kill them'," the Tommy Larkins clubman says.

"I didn't mind about the killing, I wanted these lads to come back again and again and I knew this is what it's going to take. If a lad keeled over, he'd keel over and he'd have to get going again, there was no stopping."

No experts

With no All-Ireland success in 57 years, "there were no experts in Galway" and it afforded Farrell some leeway when it came to the training of his troops while he "worked on a bit of psychology every night" to build them up for the summer.

'We're the best team', 'we'll be unbeaten' and 'this is our year' were regularly spouted while training matches in Athenry were "fairly hectic" with "the doctor on the sideline because there'd usually be a few stitches needed and blood flowing."

Farrell had plenty of time to mastermind their All-Ireland triumph on the long commute back from Fairview every Tuesday and Thursday as he left school at 4.15 every afternoon and eventually returned to the capital at 2.30 in the morning.

He "never thought about the drive" when taking the job with journeys through the likes of Kilbeggan, Kinnegad, Moate and every other nook and cranny in Ireland breaking his heart over the course of the ten-hour round trip, often made alone.

It was only in hindsight that he realised a change to Friday night sessions would have made far more sense and lightened his load but the only thing in his mind was "to win the Liam MacCarthy, that was the big dream."

That was realised when Joe Connolly climbed the Hogan Stand steps in Croke Park on September 7 following a 2-15 to 3-9 victory over Limerick - they earlier defeated All-Ireland 'B' champions Kildare and Leinster winners Offaly - to deliver a famous speech that is still talked about 40 years later.

"It's like the song, to win just once was unreal," Farrell smiles.

"It was great for the boys to get there, John Connolly and these lads were hurling for 16 years with Galway and playing top-class stuff and not getting over the line. It was savage."

All in all, Farrell would have three stints at the helm with another two All-Irelands coming their way through back-to-back titles in '87 and '88 as well as making history again when leading Galway to their first minor All-Ireland in '83.

But it is that success in 1980 that paved the way for what followed. The west truly was awake and at the tender age of 30, Farrell had reached the managerial pinnacle and helped to bring unbridled joy to a county that had been oppressed for more than half a century.