Dublin - Class of '95
KEITH GALVIN won his All-Ireland as the 20-year-old with the barely teenage features playing in an unfamiliar position during the long, hot summer of 1995.
Later that year, he was there in a dressing-room in Parnell Park when Mickey Whelan, by way of introducing himself to the team he had just inherited, declared that they’d won their All-Ireland with "one of the worst full-back lines" he’d ever seen, of which Galvin himself was a member.
They are the second and third most dramatic things that have happened to Keith Galvin.
Fast forward to early September 1997.
It’s Tuesday of the week that St Sylvester’s, Galvin’s club, are fixed to play Erin’s Isle in the Dublin SFC final.
Galvin has woken up in the Intensive Care Unit in Beaumont Hospital.
Nine days have passed since Sylvester’s, then county champions, beat Kilmacud Crokes in the semi-final.
Galvin played in that game but has spent most of the time since in a coma.
His father, Paddy, sits at his bed side.
"What’s happening?" Galvin enquires groggily, unaware that over a week has passed since he was last conscious.
"You’re very, very sick," his father confirms.
"What’s the story with the match?" Galvin asks, more puzzled now than panicked.
"You won’t be playing football for a very long time," Paddy replies and holds up a copy of the previous Saturday’s Evening Herald.
Across the front page in big, bold typeface, the headline reads: 'DUB STAR’S FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE'.
The edition is dated September 13, 1997 – the day Mother Teresa was buried in Calcutta.
"She was on page two," Galvin recalls now. "I was on page one!"
There is a misconception that both Galvin and Jason Sherlock, the more celebrated of the two ‘bolters’ of Dublin’s summer of ’95, were brought in at the same time from the same team.
Galvin was, in fact, on the 1993 Dublin minor team along with four other players from St Sylvester’s, a rich harvest from the Malahide club who had gone five years unbeaten through the age grades.
He and Enda Sheedy, were the only members of that Dublin minor panel to play senior inter-county championship.
Sherlock, who was already part of Pat O’Neill’s squad by the time Galvin was added in April (after conclusion of the league), was on the ’94 minor team that also contained future Dubs in Ciarán Whelan, Ray Cosgrove, Ian Robertson, and Mick O’Keeffe.
Either way, they brought a new, unrefined energy to a team that had endured deep trauma over the previous four years.
"I think management realised they had to change something," Galvin reckons now. "And they brought the two of us in. I’ll always be very grateful to Pat O’Neill for that. It was a huge call. Especially with a corner-back."
Galvin was never a corner-back until O’Neill told him he was. His natural pace and sharp ball skills made him the sort of free-wheeling wing-back Dublin had in abundance around then.
But his chance arose when Ciarán Walsh picked up an injury that spring and Galvin, having never played so much as a National League game, started in the corner against Louth in Navan on the baking June Sunday Dublin began their odyssey.
"That went great," he recalls.
If it was a trial, the conditions suited Galvin’s perfectly.
His first act as a Dublin senior was to mark Ollie McDonnell, who had been given a roaming brief.
For a man whose natural habitat was the more open prairies, these terms of engagement played neatly into Galvin’s young, confident hands.
"I just kept performing, so I kept getting picked," says Galvin.
He held his position all summer, won an All-Ireland in his just fifth senior inter-county match.
None of it came as much of a surprise.
"You could tell straight away, just by the body language and the focus and the training and the intensity that there was a determination that they were going to do it," he says now.
"And that gave me great confidence. And every single championship game we played that summer, I never thought we were going to be beaten.
"Because of the way the management were. Because of how training was. The whole set up was excellent. Every box was ticked. And I had no baggage. I’d no fear. I hadn’t been involved in any of the defeats."
It was that confidence, he reckons, that helped Galvin find his spot in what was a notoriously cliquish dressing-room.
Famously, there was the Hanlon’s Corner crew (those northsiders who drank in Hanlon’s Corner Pub on the North Circular Road) and the southside crew, neither of which a confident young defender from Malahide fitted automatically into.
"Intimidating is the wrong word to use," Galvin maintains.
"Yeah, there was cliques. But I was very young. I was raw. It didn’t bother me.
"It definitely wasn’t intimidating for me. I was a confidence player and I was in form and I believed in my ability.
"You had lads in that defence like Paddy Moran and Mick Deegan and Keith Barr who, once they saw if you could play, they’d encourage you. And then you became more part of it”"
Galvin was living at home that summer, studying in UCD and coaching at GAA camps, doing his best to avoid the obvious and easy distractions of a sunny summer in Malahide.
They trained at eight o’clock in the morning in Santry to avoid the worst of the heat and Galvin recalls "loving every minute of it".
"We were without doubt the fittest team in the land," he says. "Sports science was only starting to come into GAA at that stage but we were ahead of the curve with Pat and with Fran Ryder.
"Everything was recorded, every run – everything was timed and measured. And there was rankings. So there was no hiding. Everything was completely transparent.
"It’s just a pity Pat went when he did... because that team should have won another All-Ireland or two."
Galvin prefaces his recollection of that evening in late 1995 by pointing out that Mickey Whelan is both "a very personable man", who he "has a lot of time for" and has done "great things for Dublin football" over the past 25 years.
"But," he adds, "what a stupid f***ing thing to say. I’ll never forget it. I was gobsmacked. I really was. Because you were talking to lads who had spent blood, sweat and tears to win this for Dublin."
It wasn’t quite Brian Clough in 1974 telling the Leeds United players to throw their medals in the bin.
But to a group who had, to Galvin’s mind, "bust their boll***s" to win an All-Ireland for Dublin, Whelan’s words were needlessly inflammatory.
They were at aimed at him. At least by proxy.
He, along with Ciarán Walsh and Paddy Moran, had started in Dublin’s full-back line in the All-Ireland final and all three were present, listening, as Whelan asserted that they’d made up "one of the worst full-back lines" he’d ever seen.
"I wasn’t personally insulted," Galvin stresses now. "I was 20 years of age going in playing a very specialised position I’d never played before and had won an All-Ireland.
"Out of 100 per cent for that year, I’d have given myself 75.
"So it was water off a duck’s back from a personal point of view. Because I felt I was only starting off in my career.
"It just showed a lack of awareness. A lack of foresight. A lack of respect. It was a bizarre thing to come out with."
Lead balloons have fallen slower than the mood in the dressing-room in Parnell Park that evening.
"After that meeting, some lads just went ‘I’m not f***ing playing for him’. I was still only a young lad but I was thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m after hearing that’.
"You could literally see it evaporating in front of your face. And it’s an awful shame, because there was another All-Ireland in that team, without a doubt."
Part of the blame for the subsequent disintegration of relations lies with some of those players who resented change, rejected Whelan’s methodology and began to cut corners in training.
But if he had it intended to cajole new energy from an ageing team, Whelan’s homily hadn’t had anything like the desired effect.
That season, Meath came back from a sort of end-of-days tanking in the ’95 Leinster final and beat Dublin in the provincial decider.
With that, their momentum was lost.
St Sylvester’s won the only county title of their history in 1996 with Brian Talty as manager, propelled by the bunch of youngsters of which Galvin was the pick.
They also had Shay Keogh, a dead-eyed freetaker who played for Dublin around that time, and Niall Guiden, who Whelan brought back into the fold in 1996.
There was former Dublin sub ’keeper John Leonard, former Limerick forward Timmy Cummins and the Barnes brothers; Brian, Martin and Declan, and collectively they grazed on the higher slopes of Dublin club football for the best part of a decade.
They made the Leinster final too, losing to an Éire Óg (Carlow) team who collected the fourth of their five provincial titles of the nineties that year.
A season on, Sylvester’s made another county final as defending champions, beating a strong Kilmacud Crokes in the semi-final. Galvin played that day and played well, but hadn’t trained all week due to a flu he was taking antibiotics for.
With over a week until the county final, the players retired to Malahide village for the evening but Galvin felt iffy and opted out.
Then he went home and slept for 18 hours solid.
At one point his sister, Kerrie-Anne, came in to check on him and discovered a rash on his arms.
She called his mother, Mary, who sensing all wasn’t right with her son, phoned the local GP, who agreed to stop by in the morning.
"In fairness to her, my sister said: ‘no, there’s something wrong here. We need to call an ambulance".
"And it all just went downhill from then".
Galvin spent a month in Beaumont and most of the first week on a ventilator, suffering from viral encephalitis, ostensibly a form of meningitis.
The condition causes an inflammation of the membrane and a build-up of pressure around the brain that many patients have the top of their skull removed to alleviate.
"I was lucky," he explains. "If my sister hadn’t called the ambulance, I was a gonner."
The most serious potential complication of viral encephalitis is permanent brain damage although many more suffer from epilepsy or lose their sight as a result of it.
Galvin made a full recovery although Orla Hardiman, one of Ireland’s top consultant neurologists, warned him to cash in his chips. Going back playing football was strictly not advised.
That was in late September.
On New Year’s Day 1998, he togged out in the annual Blue Stars game.
"I got letters to the house from people from all over the country who knew people who had what I had, wondering how I made a full recovery," he recalls.
"Because there were young people who were never the same again afterwards. But I was fortunate. I made a full recovery."
It took its toll on his football but Galvin was back and flying during the spring of 1998 before breaking his leg three weeks out from Dublin’s championship opener with Kildare.
Football-wise, it was another setback but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t knock a spot off him.
He played for Dublin until 2001 and holds the distinction of being the last member of the 1995 All-Ireland winning team playing the game competitively at club, still fresh-faced 25 years on from the long, hot summer for which Galvin will be remembered.
"The whole thing definitely put things into perspective for me," he admits.
"Football – since I was young, young – had always been number one. Everything came second to it"
"So that gave me a better appreciation of what was important, what wasn’t maybe as important as I thought it was," stresses the St Sylvester’s clubman.
"But still," he adds, "I always wanted to go back and play with Dublin. And luckily, I did.
"That’s something I’ll always have.
"Because after an experience like that, you don’t take anything for granted."