Padraic Joyce leaves behind a legacy with Tribesmen that’s second to none
AS Padraic Joyce swings his boots from the rafters at the end of his 15-season senior inter-county career, let the debate begin.
Is he the greatest forward Galway have ever produced? It's a topic guaranteed to provide lively discussion throughout the county over the coming weeks, although there will be those who claim it's heresy to suggest that anybody could challenge Sean Purcell as No 1.
Indeed, 'The Master' has many supporters nationwide who would argue that he was the best footballer in GAA history and that to suggest he had a superior in his native county is an outrageous betrayal of his genius.
Not so. Purcell's game was multi-faceted, enabling him to be equally comfortable in defence, midfield or attack. It was that rare adaptability which makes him such a credible contender for the 'greatest of all-time' honour.
However, when the focus is narrowed to cover the attack only, Joyce's case for favourable comparison with Purcell becomes compellingly cogent.
His impact on Galway football since making his senior championship debut against Mayo in May 1998, right up until his last appearance as a sub against Antrim in a losing All-Ireland qualifier tie in Casement Park last July, was truly immense.
As well as being one of the most accurate finishers of his generation – both from open play and frees – his leadership skills and unyielding determination to be the best made him a special talent in an era of many high-class forwards.
His departure breaks the last link with the Galway squad that ended a 32-year All-Ireland famine when beating Kildare in the 1998 All-Ireland final.
Together with Michael Donnellan, Derek Savage, John Divilly, Tomas and Declan Meehan, Paul Clancy, Shay Walsh and Joyce's brother, Tommie, he was a leading member of an ultra-impressive new generation that gelled instantly with men like Kevin Walsh, Sean Og De Paor, Ja Fallon, Tomas Mannion, Niall Finnegan and Ray Silke to emerge as an unstoppable force that powered its way to All-Ireland glory.
He pounced for a crucial goal just after half-time in the final, finishing smartly from a Donnellan pass off a long ball by Divilly. It was Galway at their swashbuckling best, all under the shrewd guidance of John O'Mahony – their first 'imported' manager.
"He had a great way with players and I am extremely grateful to him for giving me the chance. He achieved an awful lot for Galway football and it is only as time goes on that you really appreciate what he did," said Joyce.
Joyce was Galway's top-scorer (1-2) in the 1998 All-Ireland final, a role he would fill so many times over the next dozen years. His best career performance was in the 2001 All-Ireland final against Meath when he scored 0-10 (0-5 from open play).
He had a quiet first half but opened up after the break and led the Royal torture as Galway galloped to a nine-point win. He was later chosen as Footballer of the Year.
Few would have predicted as Galway left Croke Park as All-Ireland champions in 2001 that not only would it be Joyce's last appearance in the final, he would never even play in another semi-final. It remains one of the great mysteries of football how a squad with so much natural talent lost its place near the top of the All-Ireland queue.
As they were shunted ever further back, Galway developed the unfortunate knack of going through managers at a ridiculous rate, with Joe Kernan and Tomas O Flatharta serving only one year each.
"Changing the manager so often probably hasn't helped but we still should have won a lot more," said Joyce.
However, despite the sideline uncertainty, Joyce's reliability as the spiritual leader and key attacker remained constant, often under the handicap of various injuries which niggled him over later years.
Despite that, he battled on, always hoping that Galway would come good again before he finally left the inter-county arena. It didn't happen and defeats by Sligo (after leading by five points) and Antrim in this year's championship brought down the curtain on a career in which his contribution to his beloved Killererin, Galway and Ireland (he won 11 International Rules caps and captained the team in 2004 and 2005) was huge.
Now, he will take his place on the terraces but it would be no surprise to see him involved in a managerial capacity, either in Galway or elsewhere, at some future point.
Date of birth: April 1, 1977 (aged 35)
Colleges: St Jarlath's, Tuam, IT Tralee
All-Ireland SFC (2): 1998, 2001
Connacht SFC (6): 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008
All Stars (3): 1998, 2000, 2001
Footballer of the Year: 2001
International Rules: 11 caps (Irish captain 2004 and 2005)