Sunday 17 December 2017

Vincent Hogan on Galway manager Donoghue - The quiet man shuns limelight but influence shines through

Galway hurling manager Micheál Donoghue is held in high esteem by those who have encountered his managerial style Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Galway hurling manager Micheál Donoghue is held in high esteem by those who have encountered his managerial style Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

His preference will be to turn the volume of this story down and tune out of the giddiness now building around his Galway team.

Because Micheál Donoghue meets the thumping heartbeat of big hurling days with the air of a reticent curate, still trying to second-guess his new congregation. No-one will ever filch a tee-shirt motto from his quotes, his management style plumbed into an almost pathological attention to detail rather than theatricality or bombast.

Galway manager Micheál Donoghue shakes hands with Davy Fitzgerald
after their victory against Clare in last year’s All-Ireland SHC quarter-final Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue shakes hands with Davy Fitzgerald after their victory against Clare in last year’s All-Ireland SHC quarter-final Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

But you don't need a boiler-room demeanour to understand heat and, right now, it's tempting to see something different about Galway.

Their League final obliteration of Tipperary still resonates, even 10 weeks on, as such a startling communion of physical power and psychological conviction that most arguments against them now torqueing on to the county's first All-Ireland in 29 years come rooted in nothing more tangible than history.

Galway have won five League titles since Conor Hayes lifted the Cup in '88 and, through that stretch, there's routinely been the taint of self-harm to their story. Donoghue's own ascension to the manager's job initially seemed to italicise that form, the players essentially sacking Anthony Cunningham from the post within weeks of reaching the 2015 All-Ireland final.

Galway were duly relegated in their first League under new management and, when this year's 1B campaign ran aground early with a round two Salthill defeat to Wexford, Donoghue found himself working to a soundtrack of rising grumbles. Yet Galway have played and won all eight competitive games since, the last four victories (against Limerick, Tipp, Dublin and Offaly) by an average just short of 15 points.

As Connacht Tribune Sports Editor, John McIntyre, reads it: "The maulings they've been dishing out to people, if Kilkenny were doing it, you'd nearly have presented the Liam MacCarthy Cup to them already."

McIntyre has a good sense of the Commandments being adhered to in the current Galway dressing-room, having been coach of the Clarinbridge team that won a first ever Galway senior title in '01 under the captaincy of Micheál Donoghue. He remembers a centre-back who "even if he didn't have the mantle of captain, would have been automatically one of the leaders of that team".

Donoghue had won All-Ireland minor and under-21 titles with Galway in '92 and '93 respectively and hurled wing-back for the seniors in the '96 Championship. But back trouble brought his inter-county career to a cruelly premature end at the age of just 21.

So while the Galway career of twin brother, Liam, flourished, Micheál's was over almost before it had begun.

Through the years that followed, he worked an assortment of backroom roles in various dressing-rooms, ranging from Turloughmore to Galway minors and under-21s before guiding Clarinbridge to county and, eventually, All-Ireland glory in 2011. One of those whose counsel he frequently sought on that latter journey was NUIG-based Professor of Economics, Eamon O'Shea.

When O'Shea was subsequently appointed Tipperary manager in late 2013, he recruited Donoghue as a stats man.

And, for the Tipp players, it took some time to recognise the calibre of their new arrival. Shane McGrath recalls someone who, initially, "you'd hardly even know he was there", but a man who - over time - came to win the respect and trust of those around him. McGrath recalls, especially, Tipp's 2014 All-Ireland qualifier game with Galway in Thurles as an occasion highlighting Donoghue's inner steel.

"That night had to be very difficult for him," suggests the Ballinahinch man, now retired from county hurling. "It was a do or die game for both teams and I think, for us as a group, it would really have been the end of the road for a lot of people if we'd lost that night.

"And Galway had us bet, they should have won. But maybe they just switched off and Seamie (Callanan) just hit unbelievable form. Anyway, we ended up winning and that had to have been bitter-sweet for Micheál.

"I remember he had his Tipp top on him in the stand and, you know, he got a lot of abuse from Galway people in the heat of the moment. And that had to be hard. But he was very straight about it afterwards. His view was 'You're either involved with something or you're not...'

"He's a Galway man at heart, but he was 100pc with Tipp that night. And I think he got a lot more respect from guys because of that."

Eoin Kelly remembers someone always programmed to listen and self-educate.

"He just always struck me as a guy with an appetite to learn," suggests Tipp's 2010 All-Ireland winning captain. "I mean, looking back, he was in with Tipp for a reason. He wasn't coming up and down to Thurles for the good of his health. He was learning his trade really. Looking back now, you probably would have seen that he had ambitions.

"I'd say his ultimate goal was always to be the Galway senior hurling manager. But there's probably just one part of the jigsaw missing for him now. I'd guess he'd love to get his hands on Eamon O'Shea as coach of the Galway senior hurlers. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the coaches he has there, but I wouldn't be surprised if Eamon is a sounding-board for him."

Kelly wonders aloud how Donoghue's recruitment last October of Tipperary's coveted Polish Strength and Conditioning coach, Lukasz Kirszenstein, might now "sit" with current Tipp boss, Michael Ryan.

Yet, that recruitment identified the kind of single-mindedness now driving Galway's hurling story. Donoghue understood the esteem in which Kirszenstein was held within the Tipperary dressing-room and was willing to jeopardise the natural warmth of a relationship with Ryan built up over those seasons of '14 and '15 working in O'Shea's backroom.

Having been a Clarinbridge team-mate of Donoghue's during that breakthrough county title winning season of '01 and then prospered from his coaching talents during the All-Ireland club run a decade later, Alan Kerins is in little doubt that Galway now have a seriously accomplished leader at the helm.

"Micheal's just a very shrewd guy, very modern in his ways," says Kerins, a two-time hurling All-Star. "There's no ego there. The year we won the All-Ireland, he was always bringing in different voices, people like Eamon O'Shea and Eric Elwood, just to give us different angles. I'd say he'd meet other managers and people from other sports fairly regularly too to pick their brains.

"His big thing with us was that he shouldn't be driving our standards, that we needed to be driving them ourselves and not accepting mediocrity. He's always very keen on learning. But, above all, he's a good guy who has a great way with players.

"He's the type who will always be doing one-on-ones with players, meeting them for a coffee, that type of thing."

As of now, he has navigated Galway to an unfamiliar position of favourites to win this year's All-Ireland.

And, despite having only a truncated pre-season with them for the 2016 season, Donoghue's Galway were still just a point adrift of the eventual All-Ireland champions last August despite losing both Adrian Tuohy and Joe Canning by half-time of that remarkable semi-final against Tipp.

Yet, a certain edginess is inescapable now. Galway are priced at a prohibitive 2/7 to beat Wexford in tomorrow's Leinster final, odds clearly dismissive of that League meeting between the counties in February. McIntyre recalls being down on the Salthill pitch immediately after that defeat and encountering colossal negativity.

"There was a lot of anger and bile among some supporters that day," he remembers now. "I mean there would have been a certain section of the Galway hurling fraternity who wouldn't have been sorry if that management team was cut loose there and then. But, of course, that's knee-jerk reaction. It was only February.

"Micheal himself, I know from talking to him, took that defeat very badly. I'd say there was a lot of looking in the mirror from the Galway management after that game. But, you know, they haven't put a foot wrong since. Galway's form is very compelling now and, while they won't say this publicly, I think they've kind of embraced the mantle of being favourites for the All-Ireland.

"I see no signs of that status unsettling them in any way. That said, it would be hugely disappointing if they lose this one. Because everything that we're beginning to think is different about this team would be blown out of the water in 70 minutes. At the end of the day, if Galway are beaten, they're probably not going to win the All-Ireland. So the stakes are huge."

Donoghue will, no doubt, be addressing that threatened Wexford ambush with the same, singular composure that has been his hallmark thus far as Galway manager. His presence on the line in Croke Park tomorrow will, it's true, seem a dim murmur next to the Vesuvian thunder of Davy Fitz.

But, if he looks deferential in any way, you have mis-read him.

"You can see the Galway players are feeding off his positivity," suggests Shane McGrath. "Just watching them, I see something different in them this time. They're playing with a freedom and that's clearly coming from Micheal."

Kerins concurs. "Look, he knows they have to bring the right level of aggression and intensity to every day but, if they do that, they'll be very hard to stop," says the Clarinbridge man. "It's a massive opportunity for them."

The volume on this story is heading in only one direction.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport