Niall loss still hurts
DAMIEN HAYES has recounted the "unbelievable tragedy" of Niall Donohue's death last October and the harrowing circumstances of burying his Galway teammate just a day before playing in a county final.
The Galway SHC decider was put back 24 hours, as a mark of respect, following Donohue's tragic passing. Portumna went on to recapture their Galway crown, after a four-year gap, to put the former kingpins back on the All-Ireland hunt next month.
But even three months down the line, Galway hurling is still coming to terms with the loss of such a luminous talent and – as Hayes remembers – such a bubbly dressing room presence.
"I remember being told at a club training session and I just couldn't believe it," the Galway veteran recalled, speaking at an AIB media briefing ahead of Portumna's All-Ireland club SHC semi-final against Na Piarsaigh.
"I had gotten to know him better in 2013 than I had in 2012 because neither of the two of us could seem to get on the team. So, when the team would be having their talk in one room in Croke Park before a match, you'd be in the other room.
"I got chatting to him better then and it's just an unbelievable tragedy. It's very, very sad. He was an absolutely lovely fella and a real character. He was really bubbly with great one-liners and just a great laugh. It's an awful loss."
The tragedy came in the build-up to Portumna's county final showdown with Loughrea, which was postponed until the Bank Holiday Monday.
"The match was meant to be played on the Sunday and, next of all, it wasn't. We were burying Niall, Lord have mercy on him, and we were doing a guard of honour," Hayes recounted.
"It was difficult now. You had your minute's silence and you said your prayer to him before the match. You just had to get on with it, as simple as that, but it wasn't easy. The day before the match we were all in Kilbeacanty together at 12 o'clock and I didn't return home until seven o'clock when it was all over. It was a long, hard day.
"I didn't see it coming for Niall. I always thought he was happy. It was an unbelievable shock. It wasn't easy now. When you go back in (with Galway), it'll still be hard."
The diminutive dynamo turns 32 next month, but didn't have to think twice about recommitting to Galway once the current club campaign ends.
"Absolutely not. As long as I'm wanted, I'll stay coming back ... I feel I'm hurling very well. I feel I'm still good enough to hurl for Galway. Why wouldn't I go back?"