Monday 19 February 2018

Flashback 1980... Joe Connolly's All-Ireland winning speech

This weekend 35 years ago Galway won its first All Ireland hurling title in 50 years, and captain Joe Connolly delivered a most powerful speech

Galway Captain Joe Connelly holds up the McCarthy Cup at Croke Park after their victory in the 1980 All Ireland Hurling Final
Galway Captain Joe Connelly holds up the McCarthy Cup at Croke Park after their victory in the 1980 All Ireland Hurling Final

Ger Siggins

Galway hurlers were in the doldrums in the 1970s, plumbing the depths with a championship defeat to London in 1973. That was the 50th anniversary of their sole All-Ireland, and few would have bet against it being another 50 years before they won a second.

But a solid run of underage success began which suggested an early recovery and in 1979 they beat Cork to get to the All-Ireland final which they lost to Kilkenny. In 1980 they beat Kildare by 5-15 to 1-11 in the quarter-final, before pipping Offaly by 4-9 to 3-10 in the semi.

That set them up for a final encounter with Limerick and there was much media excitement about a clash between two of the lesser powers. Galway had an impressive captain in Joe Connolly. The manager of that team, Cyril Farrell, recalled: "We appointed him captain because he had great leadership qualities. Besides, he was neither one of the old or the new set and would be a unifying force."

At 24, Connolly was the youngest of three brothers on the team. Bernie Forde and PJ Molloy scored first half goals for Galway but an Eamon Cregan-inspired rally almost worked for Limerick. In the end the westerners won by 2-15 to 3-9 and Connolly hit four points.

A pitch invasion delayed the trophy presentation but when Connolly arrived at the VIP box he launched into one of the most powerful and memorable speeches ever heard in a sports ground. Although from a village near the city, Connolly's parents were from the Gaeltacht and his speech was mostly in Irish.

Holding the Liam MacCarthy Cup over his head, he began "Muintir na Gaillimh…" The speech went on: "People of Galway, after 57 years the All-Ireland title is back in Galway. It's wonderful to be from Galway on a day like today. There are people back in Galway with wonder in their hearts, but also we must remember (Galway) people in England, in America, and round the world and maybe they are crying at this moment…"

Connolly then reverted to English for an impersonation of Pope John Paul II, who had spoken similar words in Galway Racecourse the year before: "People of Galway, we love you!"

The celebrations didn't just end with the speech as he handed the microphone to Joe McDonagh - later GAA president - who led the crowd in a version of The West's Awake, a stirring ballad by Young Irelander Thomas Davis, with lyrics adapted for the occasion.

Connolly's mention of the diaspora struck a chord a decade before President Robinson started lighting candles for them.

"I knew if I thought of it that I would mention the emigrants", he said years later in an interview with the GAA website. "That was something that really resonated, that the family would come from England and America for All-Ireland semi-finals and finals if we got into them…. 57 years was a long time."

It gave such a lift to emigrants that 8,000 of them flocked to Gaelic Park in New York that night to celebrate Galway's success.

Later the same year Castlegar, fielding six Connolly brothers, won the All-Ireland club championship. Joe Connolly retired from inter-county hurling in 1984, aged 28, missing out on Galway's two subsequent titles in 1987 and 1988. He was sales director of Connolly Sports, a sportswear manufacturing company and later became a director of TG4. He is still a regular broadcaster in both Irish and English.

Galway haven't won an All-Ireland hurling title since 1988.

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