Anthony Cunningham: More mature Galway now know what it takes to win
Inspirational Donoghue gets best out of players who have put lessons of past losses to good use
On Tuesday evening, I visited my own St Thomas's club, where the local Burke clan were out in force among a Galway panel of players still in something of a daze.
Despite having been the previous boss and plenty having been scribbled about the departure of our management team in 2015, I certainly couldn't begrudge the players the Celtic Cross in any way. They have put the ball over the bar and I could say that I had an input, as had hundreds of others right through their careers.
David Burke, the local hero, returned his Galway team to the promised land and to see his brother Éanna there too, as well as Conor Cooney, was memorable.
These three guys were back in their locality and this is a truly special thing, much like it will be for the other club players who go from Portumna to Loughrea to Clarinbridge to St Michael's in the coming weeks. Bringing Liam MacCarthy back to your home, back to the pitch where you grew up, amounts to massive satisfaction.
Indeed, David spoke of Conor breaking all the windows in the dressing rooms down the years taking frees: memories so many. As a player, too, I can still remember the years we won from club underage, national and secondary schools - and those memories seemed to stick with me the most.
These guys are now influencing future generations of hurlers, role models in the regeneration game. They are playing their part in maintaining what is an encouragingly healthy scene in Galway and make no mistake: standards must be raised year on year.
What was different in 2017 to 2012 and 2015? On this I'd like to hail the players, management and the administrators in recent years. Micheál Donoghue relayed this in his comments throughout the year: the players had taken full ownership of the fact they hadn't won an All-Ireland. A few years ago, they thought that they would win several, not alone one.
It works differently. So they took ownership, trained harder and worked better as a team. Their performance and maturity would be the biggest factor; I'm not saying it wasn't there before that but certainly a couple of players didn't realise the effort needed and a handful of them would be found out in an All-Ireland final.
The players said they would drive it and David Burke symbolises this: the effort he put in off the pitch with the likes of Joe Canning and others was inspirational.
Moreover, this year Micheál had a run of very few injuries. Back in 2015, Conor Cooney, Niall Burke and Joe Cooney suffered knocks; while there were some interruptions this year, they were incidental and even Jonny Glynn being back meant the jigsaw was all but complete.
The talk was that the Glynn gamble bombed but in a way it worked out extremely well: it suited Galway with Niall Burke and Jason Flynn coming in almost in unison when the game opened up. Then you look at the growth of Gearóid McInerney and Adrian Tuohey. They grew into top-class players, who were blooded years earlier.
These are names now immortalised but we must not forget the unfortunate many who just failed to win an All-Ireland with Galway. You look at Damien Hayes, Pádraig Kelly, Ollie Canning, Niall Donohue, Alan Kerins, Eugene Cloonan, Tony Óg Regan, Damien Joyce, Niall Healy, Kevin Broderick and you arrive at a feeling of success tinged with bit of sadness.
That is the regretful note, and I especially feel for the likes of Iarla Tannian, who was a regular for so many years and just missed out on the panel in 2017. A fine hurler on whom time ran out.
Why did all these earlier greats fail? A lack of games - not playing in Leinster or qualifiers; and later falling behind in conditioning and preparation levels of other counties may have deprived previous greats their all Ireland medals.
Micheál and his management team cannot be accused of letting the players down. Huge credit to him: he bound the team together, getting them over the line; it was an impeccable managerial performance right through. You are judged on results and it is a highly competitive environment not understood by those who've not gone through it.
Samuel Beckett memorably wrote words that seemed to define Galway hurlers for nearly three decades: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
Can Galway now win better? David Burke said in his post-match comments that Galway were simply not going to fail again in the last ten minutes, yet there was a wobble.
Kevin Moran missed that really scoreable effort to put Waterford two points up and the crowd went quiet; it was extremely noticeable in Croke Park. Galway people around me were saying: 'Here we go again.'
But they got through it and this is a huge plus. It was similarly tight in the semi-final but in finals you simply have to get used to winning. They were totally in control of a match in which they could have been two points down.
They rode the storm and got one or two breaks, with great scores to finish. You cannot train or coach that - you have to get over it - and Galway will have gotten massive confidence from this win.
That is one aspect of an exciting future for the Tribesmen. I envisage that Micheál will be very smart in the coming year, blooding players like Thomas Monaghan, Seán Loftus, Jack Grealish.
You've Brian Molloy, sublime in the Under-21 final last year; Shane Moloney will be used more in the league too.
Donal Mannion from Cappataggle and Jack Canning, nephew of Ollie and Joe, are a deadly duo up front and Conor Molloy is another example of a player that will come through.
On that note, the work Jeffrey Lynskey has done transcends the conventional role of a minor boss. He has inculcated in these players the knowledge of what it takes to be a county player, to be the next thing to a full-time athlete. He has educated them in growing up as players and men.
They do performance analysis on their own games and these lads will join an Under-21 set-up that has really been a bit starved of action. Plenty of 18- to 22-year-olds in Galway have not seen enough combat, so this is another challenge for the administrators.
As for me, I am involved every week in hurling and coaching and I always have the gear bag in the car. It is extremely rewarding and, be it schools action, a club or something more in 2018 - hurling or football - I will still be involved.
It was humbling too that players verbally acknowledged the 2012-2015 management's contribution on Tuesday night. I feel that we brought them to a new level and, while Liam had to wait a while longer, these gifted Galway players finally got over the line.
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