Tuesday 12 November 2019

Paul Galvin listens to his soul in decision to come back

The Kerry legend faces a tough challenge but holding regrets would have been worse

Kerry's Paul Galvin
Kerry's Paul Galvin
Eamonn Fitzmaurice, right, and Paul Galvin

Christy O'Connor

When Paul Galvin wrote his excellent autobiography last year, some of his most eloquent writing appeared in the epilogue.

Titled 'We Can't Start Again', the line was borrowed from a passage in The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck's masterpiece about human unity and love, and the need for cooperative rather than individualistic ideals during hard times.

Some of Galvin's prose is superb. Evocative. Emotional. Intensely personal. The depth of his words and their meaning shine a light into his soul, act as a torch around the endless caverns of his mind. The passion Galvin writes with provides swabs of his DNA, the honesty of his words like chromosomes helping to identify the immense complexity of his character, where defiance and introspection are clearly key cell nucleus in the biological structure of Galvin's make-up

Galvin (right) thinks differently. Existential views appeal to his mindset. He accepts there are limits to what people can achieve in life and sport but believes the great people and great players don't see those limits. He is honest and confident enough to personalise those beliefs and lay them out in print. "I don't know if I was good or great," writes Galvin. "But I know that I never set out to be good. I set out to be great. That counts to me."

Galvin was a unique talent but a player with his rap-sheet and playing history is bound to carry some remorse. Yet when he writes about regrets, Galvin describes how people think it's necessary to have no regrets to be happy in life. In his mind, regrets are an inevitability of life, that it's not wrong to have them. It's more important to be able to face them, accept them, and possibly make sense of them.

"Then let them off," writes Galvin. "They'll only harm you otherwise. Regrets can be your friend or enemy. I know that if you follow your heart in life you'll always find your way. It won't lead you astray."

Galvin clearly tried to let any lingering sense of regret off last year but he obviously struggled to rinse it all from his system. His philosophy was harder to reconcile with reality. As the Kerry machine started ramping up once more, regret became Galvin's enemy. With that beast still raging inside him, Galvin clearly felt there was only one way to get rid of it. Follow his heart to try and find his way. Whatever anyone else believes about his comeback, Galvin doesn't believe his attitude will lead him astray.

After his retirement, Galvin found it so hard to watch Kerry that the only Kerry match he went to last year was the All-Ireland Final. Galvin is close with Declan O'Sullivan and anytime they spoke, that regret was still loitering in Galvin's mind. "There's no doubt that he missed it," says O'Sullivan.

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When O'Sullivan retired last November, he was completely at peace with the decision. He had given 12 years to the Kerry seniors. His body could give no more. He knew 2014 was going to be his last season so he was able to pour everything into it. Winning an All-Ireland was a glorious way to bookend a fantastic career.

Galvin didn't need an All-Ireland win to justify his career but the manner of his ending, a low-key McGrath Cup game in Mallow, denied him full peace of mind. For somebody who thinks as much as Galvin, that craving had the potential of a mental torture chamber.

"Whether it was injuries, mental fatigue or his mindset at that time, he just walked away in February," says O'Sullivan. "It was probably eating away at him that he didn't give it that one last big shot. I know how important it is to be able to do that. Paul never felt he gave it everything."

The easy assumption to make now is that this is a selfish reflex response to try and slay the inner beast of regret inside Galvin. That the reality is vastly different. Galvin is 35. He has played very little football in over a year. His body might not be able for it anymore. Kerry have come with a new team and a new identity, and bringing back Galvin potentially risks effecting the unique dynamic Kerry created last year.

The flip side is that Kerry have nothing to lose. That Galvin's return will further increase competition for places and help rid that silent but insidious virus of complacency that regularly infects All-Ireland champions. That the younger players will learn from his experience.

Whatever Galvin's return will bring, nobody will have thought more about the possibilities than Galvin himself.

"It's definitely not a case of his ego making this decision," says O'Sullivan. "Paul is not a rash person. I would imagine this has been brewing inside him since last summer and it has been building and building. People never gave Paul enough credit, especially early on in his career, for how thoughtful a guy he is. There is no question he hasn't thought this through to the last. He thinks a lot about the game. He thinks a lot about how Kerry should play, about how he should play, how he should develop. He has seen how Kerry have developed and liked the way Kerry developed. He wants to be a part of that because that's the way he would like football to be played himself.

mindset

"I just hope his mindset is right but I think it will be. He needs to be realistic. If he is thinking he's going to come back in great shape and be the same player he was, it's going to be very difficult. He is definitely in good shape but the one worry I would have is the lack of football he has played. Still, I would trust both his and Eamonn's (Fitzmaurice) judgement."

That belief is echoed by Darragh Ó Sé. "Galvin and Fitzmaurice are very close," says Ó Sé. "It will be very interesting to see how it works out but I wouldn't doubt them for a second. It's a big gamble but if you look at Fitzy's career, he has always been very sure of himself. I'd be very confident in whatever call he makes. I wouldn't doubt Paul either.

"Like Eamonn, he won't make mistakes. Anyone in their right mind wouldn't do what he is doing but that is the type Galvin is. If he thinks he can do it, he will do it. That is how mentally strong he is."

Ó Sé last met Galvin in Dingle a few weeks ago. They spoke about football and Fitzmaurice, nothing more. The Ó Sé's are close with Galvin but he gave no indication of what was on his mind. "Paul is a hard guy to get to know," says Darragh. "You won't be let inside the door too easily. You have to knock a few times but when you do get in the door, he's a great friend to have. I'd be very fond of him but I wouldn't take him on. I wouldn't question him. He has his own ideas. He is deep. You wouldn't be trying to change his mind anyway. Even if you tried, you couldn't."

O'Sullivan is also close to Galvin. The last time they spoke, they were joking about retirement. If Galvin still had a desire to return deep in his soul, he wasn't going to ask O'Sullivan to help him stoke the embers to see if the fire could rage again.

"Nobody had any inclination this was on the cards because Paul couldn't have canvassed opinion," says O'Sullivan. "Even if he did canvass opinion, that's telling him straight away he was having doubts. But if it's going to work, he is going to have to be so mentally tough. It's going to take time to get up to speed. If he plays poorly, critics will be writing him off. That's why he needs to be so mentally focussed."

In sport, when players try to rage against the dying of the light, the mind often tries to write cheques the body can't cash. When he asks himself in his book what he has learned in his sporting life, Galvin describes his grasp of the vast chasm between desperation for success and being desperate for the work that inevitably brings success. "There's a difference," writes Galvin. "In the end, I had to go because I was desperate for success but couldn't commit to the work it takes to bring it."

Perspective and circumstance, though, change everything. Galvin has had time to rest and allow his body to heal. He still lives in Dublin but he will be able to spend more time in Kerry now than last year, which was a factor in his original decision to retire. More importantly, he is still desperate for success.

Throughout Galvin's career, in any rare interviews he gave, he was always clearly inspired by the history and tradition of Kerry football. He had a huge grasp of its rich heritage. His defiance coupled with Kerry football made a man of Galvin. It made him great in his own unique way. With that love of Kerry football lodged so deeply in his soul, that human unity and love, that need for cooperative rather than individualistic ideals which Steinbeck writes about, Galvin clearly doesn't want to leave it behind just yet.

What comes next is uncertainty and the unknown but Galvin has always relished that challenge. In 2009, he was sent off again against Cork in a Munster semi-final replay. It came on the back of 2008 when, as captain, he was suspended for three months during the summer. His career was in a tailspin. Many doubted him. Galvin even contemplated walking away. Yet three months later, he was Footballer of the Year.

suspension

"I remember talking to him after that suspension in 2009," says O'Sullivan. "I said to Paul, 'You might not get out of this. Your career could be over if this continues'. Yet he still had that ability to put aside all that baggage and refocus. He will face a lot of questioning and scrutiny again now but he has the absolute ability to shut out any negative stuff that is not important. He has that mental capacity but he will need it more than ever now."

It's natural for everyone else to doubt but Galvin has always had a very clear mindset on that topic. "I know that doubts may come but they will go just as quick if you can face them down and dismantle them," he wrote. "Accept them, then attack them, break them down into small pieces and leave them on the ground behind you as you walk on to the next challenge. I know that if in doubt, practise. Practise kills all doubt."

Galvin can't start again. The chapters have been written. The wars have been waged, battles won and lost. Doubts remain but the fire is still raging, the ink hasn't run dry yet. And his greatest challenge yet could produce a new and even more glorious epilogue.

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