Thursday 23 January 2020

'I just lost interest' - How Galway star Comer almost slipped through the inter-county net

Galway captain who almost slipped through the net an example to all late developers

Damien Comer will renew rivalry with Jason Foley when Galway take on Kerry on Sunday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Damien Comer will renew rivalry with Jason Foley when Galway take on Kerry on Sunday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The 2011 St Jarlath's senior football team that agonisingly lost to St Colman's Newry in the Hogan Cup final at Croke Park had a stellar feel to it, given the journey some of those players have taken since.

Shane Walsh was the star turn in attack, scoring nine points. Paul and Adrian Varley were involved, while Liam Silke and Ian Burke - future double All-Ireland club winners with Corofin - also played important roles. Martin Farragher, 'man of the match' in this year's club final, featured only off the bench.

But the most striking feature of the Tuam school's team that day, in hindsight, wasn't who was on it but who wasn't.

Damien Comer was in the stand that day, "under the drums" as he recalled, shouting his friends on.

At that stage, Comer was more noted as a champion Irish dancer. A footballer? Too small, it seemed, for even high-level colleges football.

It's hard to countenance that with the player now who will present himself to a Kerry defence like a wrecking ball on Sunday for the last of the first round of All-Ireland quarter-finals.

As an example of persistence, as an illustration of how footballers can still develop in their late teens away from the pathway of development squads and minor trials, Comer is the perfect fit. He had a trial for the Galway minors the year after but didn't make it. Yet within another 12 months he was an All-Ireland U-21 winner with an Alan Flynn-coached Galway team. Somehow, somewhere he had slipped through the net.

Reflecting now, Comer accepts that size was a prohibitive factor in missing out on that 2011 final. But surely he had something more to offer?

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"I think I lost interest myself more so than anything," he recalled. "I played a bit, up until third year, juvenile, then didn't bother playing in my Leaving Cert year. It wasn't that I dedicated all my time to my studies. I just lost interest.

"The lads say 'imagine if we had you we would have won it' but I don't think it would have been the case because I was still relatively small. I don't know would I have been as effective.

"I would have been alright," he said, modestly. "I probably would have been on the panel but I don't think I'd have made the team."

"I'd be very good friends with Shane Walsh and the Varleys since a young age. Even watching them, you'd nearly be jealous of them getting to play in Croker. I never really expected it to happen.

"I was at a talk with Roy Keane lately and he was saying it's amazing how, you need luck on your side to kickstart some things.

"I was lucky enough that I got spotted by the U-21 manager (Flynn). If I hadn't, then I possibly wouldn't have blossomed, that's the luck of the draw."

Keane's talk in Loughrea, a breakfast to raise funds for Galway WFC, struck a cord with Comer as Keane himself was once deemed too small to make underage teams in Cork.

When he's asked to speak himself to young players now, Comer's testimony focuses on the need for patience from the player and the coach.

"I wouldn't be a big believer in the way trials operate. I went to minor trials but I didn't get picked. They aren't the best method of picking players.

"I would have been a 17-year-old going in to play with a load of randomers I would never have been involved with in a Galway set-up.

"I wouldn't have known any of the Galway lads, other than the few fellas I was at school with which wasn't many, maybe two or three. I might have been the only one from Annaghdown, maybe there was one more.

"So there are different cliques from different clubs. I believe, anyway, you should be going around to different clubs and seeing them in their own set-up and seeing how they are adapting. To pick the best, then, from that. I probably fell through that system.

"I try to encourage lads that if they are not getting picked. I wouldn't always have been a guaranteed starter on my club team at even U-16 and minor.

"Work hard at what you're good at, if you have the inner belief and you're good enough. I'd try to convey that to the young fellas."

Galway return to All-Ireland quarter-finals for the third successive year determined to present a better challenge than they did against Tipperary and Kerry.

For Comer and his teammates, substance is now as important to them as style and they don't make apologies for that.

Their Connacht final win was achieved in a manner that was beyond them 12 months earlier as they dug deep to come from behind.

"It showed good character that we were able to turn it around. We did not drop the heads and even when we were coming back and they got the penalty and went back into the lead, we responded with two quick points after that. It was probably our best bit of football to date really that we were able to bounce back."

Comer makes no apologies for the solid defensive structure that they have developed over the last 12 months, while the 'nice guy' tag is not nearly as applicable now.

"For years they have been talking about how nice Galway football teams were and where has that got us? You hear pundits all the time giving out about defensive systems but the Dubs are as defensive as any other team. It's just that they are that bit quicker in attack. That is what we are trying to get to. We have our defensive structure in place but we are just trying to get our attacking play flowing. Once you get that balance right you are in a good place," he said.

"You have to stick up for yourself. There were probably times in the past where we got bullied by other teams. There are two ways, you can either lie down and get bullied or stand up for yourself.

"That is what we have tried to do but it is all about bringing that work-rate and intensity. Division One has helped us with that because it has that physical aspect to it and the intensity has been upped."

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