Saturday 21 October 2017

'In the soul, I'm glad this question of our character has finally been answered'

Galway legend Connolly hails start of something special

Galway captain Joe Connolly riasing the Liam MacCarthy Cup back in 1980. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland
Galway captain Joe Connolly riasing the Liam MacCarthy Cup back in 1980. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It is quite an eye-catching statistic. From the time Conor Hayes lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup in September 1988 to last Sunday evening, Galway hurling had amassed 28 All-Ireland titles between minor (10), U-21 (six) and senior club (12).

The potential and quality has consistently been there, underpinned by that roll of honour that even Kilkenny can't catch. But delivery of the 'big one' consistently evaded them. It led to frustration, embarrassment, self-doubt and no end of criticism that hurt deep.

Thus, the lifting of such a heavy burden may now pave the way for a new era of confidence, ambition and even dominance, according to their 1980 All-Ireland-winning captain Joe Connolly.

Connolly was in the CityWest Hotel yesterday morning where the feel-good factor from an All-Ireland minor/senior double was so palpable and where he could declare the county free of the stigma of the mental frailty that has hung over them for so long, a point touched on by manager Micheál Donoghue the evening before.

Embarassing

"It's embarrassing like," he said, listing the years of All-Ireland senior final defeats since 1988.

"Your heart is in your county, (there's) pride in your county and what pundits have said about us over the years, it's demeaning for our manliness to be questioned.

"Whatever about our ability, it absolutely grates me that people question that you pull this maroon jersey down over your head, that you're not at a mental state like the big counties.

"That's what bugs more than anything and I hope to God that after yesterday's performance, there might be winds of change blowing in Galway hurling and a new kind of hurler coming through."

To emphasise his point Connolly recalled being at an Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) dinner in CityWest four years ago when the topic of Galway hurling came up.

"There were 10 people at the table, Dublin professionals, and four them came down during the night and said, 'Joe, what's wrong with Galway hurling?' I would walk out with my head down, that that's the perception that's out there," he recalled.

"So yesterday, it was a deep inner satisfaction, it's not hopping up on tables time. It's just, I think there could be really good days ahead if we do our business right. That's not to say that other counties aren't doing an awful lot as well.

"But I think we had to earn the respect of the hurling counties yesterday, I think we had to earn the respect which we had lost. As much as hurling counties would say to us, 'Galway are there or thereabouts', I think deep down they thought, 'we'll always be able for those lads, when the heat of battle comes on'.

"Question our location, question our structures, question our skills, but our character and our manliness, that's the one that got us, that's got me," he said.

"That's why I think that the statement of yesterday, and of the minors, and of the U-21s, I took an awful lot from that actually because it was their first time out against a really good Limerick team and it was tit-for-tat all the way. In the soul, I'm glad that this question of our character was answered. And it's up to us to go forward with it."

Connolly feels there is no reason why a county like Galway can't think big about the future. "We haven't been ambitious enough, we haven't been hungry enough. We're a rich county, there's plenty of employment in Galway, there's two third-level institutions. We have superb structures in clubs. We have a quarter of a million of a population.

"We shouldn't be picking up All-Irelands every 30 years and the reason we haven't is that it's our own fault. If our standard, going forward, in both hurling and football is excellence, then that's what we need to have. We were long enough just happy with being middle and when you're that way there isn't a hope."

Connolly admitted being tired that the identity with past successful teams stretched back to his era.

"Galway Bay FM had a programme last Wednesday and there were five of us on it and Noel Lane was one of them. He made the comment that, 'look who is up here - Joe Connolly, Conor Hayes, Cyril Farrell, Pete Finnerty, Noel Lane - we're fed up of being the spokesmen for Galway hurling.'"

Irish Independent

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