When Galway’s All-Ireland quarter-final ended in victory over Cork two weeks ago, Henry Shefflin headed towards Daithí Burke, the man he appointed team captain in February. The manager’s appreciation was clear. Galway had skated on thin ice but survived and when they needed leadership Burke never abdicated.
Afterwards Shefflin noted the Turloughmore man’s crunching hit on Séamus Harnedy that left the Cork man badly shaken. The shoulder looked a little offline, but there was no mistaking its ferocity and the resounding message it carried to all those in maroon. In every respect it was the perfect mode of expression for Galway’s captain, a man of few words.
Turloughmore had a strong say on the day’s mood. Before the match a minute’s silence honoured the late Phelim Murphy, a Turloughmore titan, who died shortly before and whose name was synonymous with Galway hurling. No doubt he too would have been greatly stirred by Burke’s display and the possibility of another Turlough man leading out Galway in an All-Ireland final ten years after Fergal Moore, their last.
St Thomas’ is the dominant force in Galway hurling now, but in the 1960s Turloughmore set a standard that has still to be matched. Six county titles in a row made them an all-conquering force in a decade when Galway were struggling, playing in Munster and barely winning a match. Murphy was an instrumental figure in creating the conditions for Turlough to thrive before he moved into county administration as a long-serving Galway hurling board secretary. Recent years have seen a revival of sorts with the black and white hooped shirts from the Lackagh parish.
A county senior club semi-final appearance in 2019 was followed by a first county final in 30 years the following season, with Burke as captain. But a week before he injured his calf playing football for Corofin. Despite not being fully fit he started the hurling final, was taken off before half-time, then sent back on later. But he wasn’t anything like the force of nature you would normally expect to see. Turlough lost a close final to St Thomas’.
Since the glory days of the 1960s Turloughmore have won just one county title, in 1985, captained by Frank Burke. In his first year playing senior club hurling for Turlough, aged 17, Francis Forde remembers a semi-final against Kiltormer that went to a replay. Kiltormer went on to win the All-Ireland club title. In that drawn game, Turloughmore were leading with time almost up when Conor Hayes sent over an equaliser from the next parish.
In over 20 years playing senior hurling Forde had the odd semi-final appearance, no more than that. After he stepped away along with Micheál Donoghue from the Galway job in 2019, having coached the team that won the All-Ireland in 2017, he and Joe Hession took over Turlough as joint managers. They reached the semi-finals in 2019, losing to St Thomas’, and the final the next year, bowing out in the preliminary quarter finals last year.
This year Forde is out on his own and if Galway lose to Limerick today, there will a first championship outing in three weeks against Castlegar. Before taking over Galway, Micheál Donoghue had a couple of years managing Turloughmore that coincided with Forde’s last few years as a senior player.
Forde played with Daithí Burke before retiring and coached him when the club won a minor title in 2007. “Daithí was centre-back on that team as an under 15, he scored an equalising goal in the county final against Thomas’ actually, they had David Burke and Co. It was before his [Daithí’s] 15th birthday and he was holding down centre-back, we knew the potential was there at that stage.”
In 1992, Forde’s second year as a senior club hurler, Phelim Murphy took over Turlough for a season. “You remember Martin Naughton?” says Forde. “Martin Naughton had a serious knee injury. We had lost the county final in 1990, the semi-final in ’91, and Phelim was determined that we would get over the line while Martin was still going strong. Now as it turned out ’92 was Martin’s final year playing with the club. So Phelim took on the management role that year and gave it everything, but unfortunately we came up short, beaten in a semi-final. He obviously had a great affinity for Martin and having been there and done that with Galway and so on, I think he felt it was a last chance for Martin to get a county medal but it wasn’t to be.
“I saw a lot of sides to Phelim, between management, county secretary, as a player, as a coach — all of that. He brought great life to any dressing room. Like I remember you went into the panel as a young player, Gerry Mac (McInerney) in particular is one that stands out, he was always able to get a bit of crack out of Phelim. He’d get a laugh out of him, and a joke. You know that element of it, that banter? Yes it’s still in the inter-county dressing room but the whole thing has gone so serious now that there nearly isn’t the time for these characters. And I suppose county board officials are more on the periphery, they are not central on match days or even in the dressing room.”
A number of those who talked of Phelim Murphy’s contribution to Galway hurling noted how player disputes with the board were uncommon mainly down to his style of administration.
“Phelim took great pride in a Galway team looking the part,“ says Forde. “If our minors were playing an All-Ireland final and you were playing Kilkenny or Tipperary there was no way they were going to be kitted out better than we were. And that was part of his pride in that whole project if you want to call it that.”
When Forde coached the county minors with Mattie Murphy as manager, they were smartly suited head to toe. “I remember thinking, was that a bit much? But that was the thinking behind it, we were going to look the part and behave and act the part as well. So that was kind of his philosophy on things, whatever had to be done to make us look the part and put Galway hurling in the picture he was going to do it.”
After leaving as Galway hurling secretary in 2004, Murphy gradually withdrew from public life and in later years suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, cared for at home primarily by his son Brendan, one of a family of 15. His wife Nellie, still in good health, had been a familiar presence with Phelim Murphy at matches and events over the years.
The last time Forde saw Murphy was when he went to the house in Waterview along with Micheál Donoghue, and the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2017, won after a wait of 29 years. On the previous successful team, Murphy was a selector. Donoghue’s late father Miko used to drive the team coach, and that was the familiar arrangement for years, he at the wheel and Phelim Murphy seated behind him with Nellie.
The visit was made out of respect. By then he had lost the ability to recognise friends and family to a large extent.
“Unfortunately,” says Forde, “the Liam MacCarthy meant nothing to him in 2017, which was very sad. That’s what Micheál’s dad was suffering from as well. Phelim was sitting there and that famous picture of Cyril [Farrell] and Phelim and Bernie O’Connor and the four cups, whatever year they won them, the Railway Cup and the Oireachtas, the league and the All-Ireland, that picture was behind him, with the Liam MacCarthy.”
County captain, Daithí Burke, carries on the torch for club and county today, the full-back part of a small group of Galway hurlers that have won five All-Stars. He leads his county out in Croke Park for what many regard as virtually a lost cause, going eye-to-eye with the All-Ireland champions and favourites to finish this year as champions for the third year running. Whatever resistance Galway can muster is expected to have Burke at its core.
“I know in that dressing room Daithí commands huge respect,” says Forde, who was part of the Laois set-up when they lost to Galway in the Leinster round-robin. “And it’s not about speeches, I can assure you of that. I don’t think he was put into that role to be a talker. You think back to the guys that Henry would have played with, like Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney, and if you listen to any Kilkenny player they had massive respect for these lads. You know, Noel Hickey mightn’t have been as decorated as some of the others, or mightn’t have the biographies and so on, but I know the Kilkenny lads had huge respect for him. So I think there is a little bit of Henry recognising the qualities that Henry values. Look that’s my take on it.”
The reputation Turloughmore earned in the 1960s lived long after them, with toughness and unrelenting physicality being their trademarks. “It would be known for being physical,” says Seán Walsh, whose wife Colette is club secretary. He serves on the club development committee and also works with Galway Bay radio, commentating when Galway last won the All-Ireland.
“Sure the hurling, it was tough, hard, physical stuff [in the ’60s],” he explains, offering context. “They farmed and some worked in the coal yards in Galway where they spent every day shovelling coal. They were big, strong, huge men. like.”
They could do with a few of them against Limerick today, those broad-shouldered farmers and coal-shovelers.
“I’d give them hope,” says another Turloughmore and county hurler of recent vintage, Cathal Moore. “But it would be based on what beat Cork — that is scoring goals. They definitely are going to have to score goals and that is not easy against Limerick the way they set up.”
Forde says beating Cork was all that mattered after the poor Leinster final performance against Kilkenny. There is also a view that this is the best time, in a semi-final, to play a team like Limerick. “I hope there is a huge performance in them,” say Forde, “and I do think it’s in them.”