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Thursday 21 November 2019

Quiet man stuck to his ways to guide Galway back to hurling's promised land

MAGIC TOUCH: Donoghue ended Galway’s losing run. Photo: SPORTSFILE
MAGIC TOUCH: Donoghue ended Galway’s losing run. Photo: SPORTSFILE

There are management reigns that are characterised by high jinks and melodrama, outbursts and moments of controversy - Micheál Donoghue's wasn't one of those. He was hurling management's Quiet Man.

His surprise departure after four years leaves a hole that will be hard to fill and throws Galway back into a period of uncertainty and instability - which has bedevilled them in the past.

Donoghue took over after the management of Anthony Cunningham unravelled - and not in a tidy manner - with players revolting and Cunningham, for a while at least, digging in his heels. The cumulative effect of Galway's frustrations at not having won an All-Ireland in, by then, almost 30 years was proving an unbearable stress for all associated with the effort to remedy that failure.

Galway had become a study in under-achievement, with repeated success at minor and under-21 unable to provide the impetus needed for a senior breakthrough. The arrival of a genius player like Joe Canning, rather than liberating Galway, seemed merely to make the journey more taxing and perplexing. When the breakthrough remained elusive, and Canning began to move into his late 20s, there was a growing preoccupation about whether or not he would go through his career without winning a Celtic cross.

Numerous managers had come and gone since Cyril Farrell led Galway to the promised land in 1988. Galway were infuriatingly unpredictable; capable of defeating Kilkenny, when a serious force, in All-Ireland semi-finals in 2001 and '05, and bamboozling them in the Leinster final in 2012, only to later trip up, get cold feet, unable to complete the job. In matrimonial terms, Galway would make an excellent marriage proposal and gain the bride-to-be's consent - only to leave her standing at the altar.

And the clock kept ticking: Canning getting closer to 30; Galway getting closer to 30 years without an All-Ireland.

Donoghue's appointment was announced in December 2015, a year in which Galway had reached the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny with high hopes, played well in the first half and proved desperately disappointing in the second.

When the players revolted against Cunningham, there was a constituency of opinion that felt the players needed to take on more responsibility for those shortcomings and stop deflecting blame on to management teams.

Donoghue would be inheriting a group that, in the public eye, needed to go out and redeem themselves. If they did not show some progress they could not expect much public sympathy.

He was, therefore, undertaking a role that would bring significant pressure and could be deemed a huge gamble. In his first season they were relegated from Division 1A, losing a play-off to Cork, and then overpowered by Kilkenny in the Leinster final. The year ended with a one-point defeat to the eventual winners Tipp in an All-Ireland semi-final.

After the loss to Kilkenny in the Leinster final, Donoghue was pilloried as "an amiable curate" for his sideline manner - considered too stoic and gentlemanly.

Why a manager going volcanic on the sideline should be seen as beneficial is hard to figure, except maybe that the person who penned those words was Ger Loughnane.

Maybe the sideline is a territorial battle, but surely players in this day and age aren't relying on their manager going berserk to gain an advantage? Perhaps Loughnane's argument is that if Donoghue behaves like that on match-day he is unlikely to be hugely fired-up on the training ground and players need that presence. But that was his way and his way would ultimately prevail.

Donoghue stayed as he was, remaining unapologetically his own man, and focused on putting all the preparations in place as best he could.

In the next year they swept the boards: League champions, Leinster champions, All-Ireland champions. The West was awake and the Quiet Man who helped mastermind it didn't need to shout from the rooftops or crow like a cock at dawn. The results spoke for themselves.

He was unlucky this year. The Canning injury made the difference between being still in the championship and being eliminated and the injury to Conor Whelan against Dublin was also deeply unfortunate.

The surprise in his leaving now is that, having watched what followed, he must have felt there was every chance that Galway could roar back next year and be a serious challenger.

But four years is a long stretch for most mortals. And that one All-Ireland will safeguard his legacy.

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