Shot at redemption
Paul Galvin has been outstanding in Kerry’s march to the All-Ireland final and has shown immense character to bounce back from last year’s infamous suspension to find himself on the cusp of his third All Star, writes Vincent Hogan
Maybe the toughest judgments served on Paul Galvin have always been his own. In the Bahamas last January, they had a suspicion of the turmoil behind those dark eyes without anyone openly broaching the subject.
He was good company, just a little distant. Then, five days before the holiday was due to end, he materialised with his bags at the hotel reception. Headed for home.
With anyone else, there might have been a posse assembled and some light coercion applied. But this was Galvin. If he wanted away, they took it he had good reason.
The store he places in wearing a Kerry jersey has always seemed freighted beyond convention. Within the group, there is a feeling that it means more to him almost than it ought to. Maybe it's his hurling background, the fact that -- prior to becoming a county footballer -- he had never been to an All-Ireland homecoming in his life.
Maybe it's because his story calls on none of the gilded lineage that underpins every generation of Kerry football. After all, until his middle teenage years, Galvin's only interest beyond Lixnaw and hurling was Manchester United.
Whatever, for Paul Galvin to be Kerry captain in 2008 would have electrified him with an almost evangelical sense of mission. And he blew it.
Few team-mates doubt that would have been his mindset in the Bahamas. Galvin ought to have been at the heart of Kerry's Championship journey last season, but his summer essentially ended on June 15 in Killarney with an act of truculence that had every chat-show and radio phone-in smoking up like tired, old air-conditioning units in a heatwave.
In slapping Paddy Russell's notebook to the ground, Galvin pretty much checked himself out of the '08 Championship. His suspension eventually expired the weekend of the All-Ireland final, but -- by then -- his role was no more than that of pantomime villain. Kerry brought him on for the closing minutes against Tyrone.
It was like waving a lost soldier's tunic at the advancing enemy.
Nothing cursed him quite like his reputation. In isolation, the notebook incident would have been a front-page crime. In the context of his history, it was recidivism of the worst kind. Galvin's rap sheet was already conspicuously long, you see. Now it just had a new headline.
The defeat to Tyrone would have offended him on many levels. Yet, the most fundamental would have been personal. Kerry invested a trust in him that many outsiders doubted he had the temperament to embrace.
And, now, those doubters had their day.
Perhaps a little consolation came in December with Jack O'Connor's return to the Kerry helm with a team of selectors that included Eamonn Fitzmaurice. In his football life, Galvin has had no closer friend than his Finuge clubmate. He was distraught to see him slip out of the county panel in '07 and a little startled to see it happen without the remotest ceremony.
So, whatever O'Connor's motives in bringing Fitzmaurice on board as a selector, his friendship with Galvin would not have been a discouragement.
The Kerry manager, uniquely, devoted three pages of his autobiography -- Keys to the Kingdom -- to Galvin. Describing him as "the answer to a pile of worries", O'Connor wrote that, though manager and player had often fought "like cats and dogs", Galvin's type was invaluable to any team.
"Hard ba****ds who'd go through walls for you," wrote O'Connor. "I can't get enough of those fellas around the place. They set the tone."
O'Connor, mind, also spoke of the North Kerry Championship game in '05 between Finuge and Ballylongford out of which Galvin took a six-month suspension for breaking a young opponent's jaw.
In late December of that year, Galvin rang O'Connor to berate him for an apparent lack of activity in trying to get the suspension reduced.
He was right about the lack of activity. Indeed, O'Connor found himself asking Galvin if it ever occurred to him that the six months might have been deserved.
Yet, he subsequently contacted the injured player's father and, though admitting "if they wanted their full pound of flesh, then they were entitled to it", succeeded in having two months pared off Galvin's sentence.
Famously, it was O'Connor's autobiography that first drew attention too to Galvin's "little black book", in which are written the names of any perceived enemies.
Two years ago, Galvin explained his attritional ways to this writer. "Maybe there's been one or two incidents I regret," he revealed. "But sometimes I don't know what it's (the fuss) all about. Maybe it's because people associate Kerry football with the greats, the Mikeys, the Jackos and the Gooches.
"Then I come along and I'm doing stuff that Kerry footballers aren't supposed to do.
"I mean sometimes I look at it and wonder where did I get the name from? Who have I ever lamped? Who have I ever opened up? Who have I ever stamped on or headbutted? Or punched? Or kicked? Really? I'm not painting myself as an angel, because I'm not.
"Have I done a few things that I regretted? I have probably, yeah. Of course I have. I might say to myself 'I shouldn't have done that. But it's done now. You can't go back. Power on'."
His reputation has fed a degree of baiting. Galvin is a highly-respected teacher in St Brendan's, Killarney, yet recalls coaching the colleges' senior footballers in Portlaoise one day and being abused by a kid with a megaphone, maybe 50 accomplices leading the chorus.
He has also taken exception to finding himself the target of some withering media commentary. After his dismissal in the '06 All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh for an altercation with an opposition water-carrier (John Toal), one TV pundit likened his behaviour to that of "a corner-boy". A writer in a Sunday newspaper observed that "if there were All Stars awarded for acting the bo**ix, Galvin would win all 15".
It was pretty toxic stuff, so much so that his family decided to stay away from the subsequent semi-final against Cork.
Obscured in all of this, of course, was the story of a wonderful footballer. That said, his first three Championship games in a Kerry jersey scarcely inspired confidence. He was taken off against Clare, dropped for the subsequent clash with Cork, then his marker -- Limerick's Stephen Lucey -- got RTE's Man of the Match in the Munster final.
This writer, incidentally, made Galvin Man of the Match in that same game, a fact he noted with appreciation on a subsequent Vodafone All Star trip to Hong Kong. Just as slights are filed away for future reference, so too garlands.
He has, since, established himself as virtually indispensable to the Kerry cause. That same year ('04), he had the distinction of collecting the 1000th All Star and collected another in '06. Galvin's ability to win 'dirty' ball is storied now. He is fearless and selfless in pursuit of possession and his scoring returns are consistently sound.
Indeed, the objective view now holds that -- short of a spectacular personal meltdown against Cork tomorrow -- his third All Star is already assured. Indeed, a seven out of 10 performance may be sufficient to win him 'Player of the Year'.
It represents quite a resurrection and one not lost on his team-mates.
Kieran Donaghy admits: "Look, Galvin's the man who's hauled us through the ropy games this year, the Sligos and the Antrims. It's huge testament to him after the year he had last year. He made a mistake, he knows that himself. It would have broken 99pc of us. Most amateur footballers or hurlers, that would have broken them. I've no doubt about that.
"But in fairness, he just went away and worked, trained harder than everybody else, looked after himself better than anybody else and we're reaping the dividends. He's doing what he does best, winning breaks, getting the dirty ball and delivering good, early possession into the inside forwards, outstanding. He's been our leader this year, our inspiration."
It hasn't, of course, been an unblemished season. Galvin got the line with his old sparring partner, Noel O'Leary, after a tussle in the replayed Munster Championship game with Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. It was an incident that fed popular caricature. Yet, Donaghy maintains that reputations were to blame.
"The hurt he felt after that Cork game was tough on him again," explains the big Tralee man. "He'd been brilliant during the League. Going around the place, breaking up fights, pulling fellas away from it. Being the model player. And the next thing for the most . . . I saw exactly what happened . . . for the kind of thing that probably happened 20 times in the recent hurling final, he gets a red card below in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
"It's tough on him, it's tough on his family. And you always feel a lot of it is because of who he is. There's always a bit of that. I remember one game in '07, him being pulled to the ground by an opponent and being booked when it was clear the booking should have been for the other fella. He got up off the ground and he's looking at this yellow card being waved at him.
"Goes to say something and it's 'Shut up . . .'
"It was a joke like, but that happens with him."
To a degree, he enjoys the role of the outlaw. He is different. He has a crucifix tattooed on his left shoulder, three stars tattooed to his right, commemorating three lost friends. He has another tattoo of two hands clasped, with a Latin prayer inked underneath.
When Kerry football no longer needs him, few doubt that Lixnaw hurling will feel the benefit. When current Dublin manager, Anthony Daly, led rivals Kilmoyley to the Kerry county hurling final two years back, they were going well until the introduction of Paul Galvin.
"He hadn't played much because of the football, but came on and made a huge difference," recalls Daly.
"In fact, I remember before I knew much about the Kerry hurling scene, we invited Lixnaw up to a six-team tournament.
"There were top clubs in it from Tipperary and Limerick. And I saw this fella playing centre-back for Lixnaw. He stood out. 'Jasus, who's yer man?' I said to someone. T'was Galvin. As natural a hurler as you'd see."
Tomorrow, though, his business is redemption. Before the '07 All-Ireland final against Cork, Galvin proposed a view that Kerry's entire history would be grievously stained should they lose to their neighbours. It didn't come to pass, of course, but the starkness of the proposal shone a light into a gunfighter's mind.
Paul Galvin may not be everyone's cup of tea. He can live with that. Failure is all he fears.