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O’Leary and Galvin battles a throwback

Paul Galvin v Noel O'Leary


OLD PALS: Kerry’s Paul Galvin (l) and Cork’s Noel O’Leary. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

OLD PALS: Kerry’s Paul Galvin (l) and Cork’s Noel O’Leary. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile


OLD PALS: Kerry’s Paul Galvin (l) and Cork’s Noel O’Leary. Pic: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

If the Noel O'Leary-Paul Galvin duels that addended the Cork-Kerry showdown of the 2000s and beyond were notable for their uncompromising physicality, then perhaps it should be defined by the story that emerged shortly after the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Cork had finally gotten over the line in the All-Ireland final after seeing off Down. The Rebels had gone close before, with plenty of near misses and heartbreak particularly for the likes of O'Leary who had been on the go for a decade at that stage.

And that day in Croke Park, years of competing near the top of the tree were finally rewarded and just hours later a text from perhaps the most unexpected of places arrived to O'Leary's phone.

"Congrats - now would you please retire and leave me alone…," read a message from his Kerry counterpart.

The O'Leary-Galvin showdowns were something of a throwback to a time when personal rivalries developed in the team context more readily. However the evolution of the game and the erosion of defined positions meant that such duels weren't often given the chance to develop.

Perhaps the struggle for supremacy between those generations of players culminated in the 2009 All-Ireland final. Kerry won that day, as they did when the sides met in the 2007 decider.

And for many of those games, Cork sent O'Leary in on Galvin. It matched a player who often set the tone for his side with another of the same ilk. It was hard to escape the feeling that whomever could come out on top in that individual battle would go a long way towards helping their side win.

Perhaps there was more than a hint of mischief about O'Leary's deployment. Galvin's reputation preceded him at the time, particularly in the wake of the Paddy Russell incident in 2008, when the Finuge man slapped the notebook out of his hand.

But if Cork were hoping to pull his tail and see if he'd hiss (the Kerry man would also clash with Eoin Cadogan) it was also a backhanded compliment to Galvin. So perhaps it was no surprise whe their clashes spilled outside the confines of the rule book.

Read enough about Galvin and you'll find several references to his ability to win 'dirty ball'. It's a term that evokes an image of a willing workhorse but doesn't do justice to his skillset, his game smarts or his importance to a Kerry team already brimming with talent.

That manifested itself a little over a year after the Russell incident, Galvin was named Footballer of the Year after steering Kerry to an All-Ireland title.

O'Leary was similar. When he retired in 2013, he had survived and thrived for 14 seasons with the Rebels at intercounty level, winning three Munster titles, three NFL Division 1 crowns as well as the All-Ireland. That's the sort of longevity and medal haul shouldn't be dismissed.

2009 might have been seen as the peak of the O'Leary-Galvin rivalry as the pair were both sent off in the first half of a Munster replay. That moment probably cemented their rivalry in the minds of many GAA supporters, so much so that when Galvin made his surprise return to county football in 2015, Cork supporters mocked up a bat sign in the image of O'Leary.

"Look, we had a few clashes over the years but I think in reality a lot of those were blown slightly out of proportion by the media," O'Leary remembered.

"I'd have nothing but respect for Paul as a player ... I wouldn't have a bad word said against Paul."

In this series we have asked our writers to recall their favourite sporting rivalries that have brought colour and drama to the games we love