'One minute we're heroes, then we're not' - Donnellan
Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30
Life revolves around hurling and Cyril Donnellan wouldn't have it any other way, but other aspects continually play second fiddle as inter-county demands reach unprecedented levels.
As one of the elder statesmen of the Galway hurling squad, Donnellan believes expectations on players are beginning to become unsustainable and he struggles to see how younger players cope.
He has no regrets about committing to Galway's fight for a first All-Ireland senior crown since 1988, he's programmed to be an inter-county hurler. It's all he knows. Working as a secondary school teacher in Claregalway helps with the demands.
"It's difficult I suppose, it's like anything, you get into a rut and you know no different. I don't think I have missed out on anything major in life because of it. But it is difficult and it has got more difficult," the 30-year-old says.
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"The level that it's going to now, I don't know where it is going to stop, just the demands like to get days off work. I remember going on mini-training camps, maybe Friday, Saturday, Sunday and you might have been told three months in advance 'get the day off'.
"Nowadays it's just expected. I'm lucky enough to be teaching, to get the time off during the summer but for career paths, if you were 20-21, trying to get a degree in something, trying to go work, you need to have a very supportive boss to meet all the demands that are needed."
Not fulfilling inter-county commitments is non-negotiable and the fear of finishing a career without a Celtic Cross drives the likes of Donnellan, and fellow stalwarts Fergal Moore, David Collins and Iarla Tannian, to keep returning year after year.
"Absolutely, it all has to be driven within you. We all seem to think we have a chance. Kilkenny have picked up most of the last 10 years but every year starting off you have to think you have a chance and you have to go for it," he says.
"When you are in this game it has to come first. It comes ahead of relationships, it has to come ahead of family life. Like, wedding functions, you just deal with it and move on.
"You wouldn't be doing it if it was that much of a problem, you would just be going along, it comes first and everything else comes second."
The Padraig Pearses attacker "mightn't do the same training as the younger lads" with extra emphasis on recovery but he is still central to Micheál Donoghue's plans and will be expected to deliver when Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary is deep into the melting pot.
His Championship appearances have been limited to second-half cameos this year, interestingly he has been the first to be sprung from the bench, each time in the 47th minute, and has hit a point in their last three games. A willingness to take on defenders is a potent weapon to help unlock tiring defences.
After a redemptive quarter-final win over Clare, which helped silence their critics after their Leinster final collapse against Kilkenny, Donnellan feels that such evaluation of their displays is par for the course until they climb the mountain.
"Until you win an All-Ireland, you can't really say you've answered those critics. It's all or nothing every year. It can be difficult. We're in an All-Ireland semi-final now. If we're to not get over the line, I'm sure there'll be more criticism.
"It can change. A half-hour of hurling can change that. We've seen that last year. After the All-Ireland semi-final last year we were heroes. Thirty minutes of hurling later, you're not. That happens. You just can't look into it, you can't judge it based on that. Praise is nearly water off a duck's back at this stage, never mind the criticism."
Anthony Cunningham was in charge for last year's epic victory over Tipp before later being forced to resign after player unrest but Donnellan doesn't feel extra pressure after a stormy winter in the west.
"Inside, no. We've drawn the line on that. To a lot of people, it's probably that you have to win an All-Ireland or not. But since I started, since 2008, it was that anyway. It was an All-Ireland or nothing. So I don't think it's a case that we feel more under pressure this year than other years," he says.
"Every year is failure unless you win an All-Ireland. I didn't think in 2012 that a Leinster title was good enough, or that an All-Ireland final appearance was good enough."
Donnellan is adamant, however, that Galway are a maturing side.
"We've improved as a team. We're able to deal with things a bit better. We're a good few years together as a team. The likes of Cathal Mannion and the younger lads have added a small bit of an extra dimension to our game. Our forwards are working very well together.
"There was talk of Joe [Canning]not performing in a Leinster final. But you look back at the clips, he was involved in a lot of key plays. Cathal had a good day based on getting points.
"Some days it'll run for you and you'll be on the receiving end . . . other days you'll be doing the hard graft. Players are starting to realise that's how it goes. And every chance you get to do something for the team."