Former corner man Coen making most of midfield freedom
Partnership with Burke firing Tribe to new heights, writes Colm Keys
Johnny Coen's conversion from tight-marking corner-back to energetic midfielder has been one of the stamps that Micheál Donoghue has put on a Galway hurling team that has been under his watch for almost two years now.
Coen's partnership with David Burke has been one of the features of Galway's season that has already landed league and Leinster championship honours and he admits feeling the benefit of a more liberating role.
"Since I started my career with Galway, I would have always been at corner-back," he reflected, recognising how former minor manager Mattie Murphy recognised the defender in him first at inter-county level in 2009.
"We beat Kilkenny in that All-Ireland. It was funny because I actually started out corner-forward and then the next day went to wing-forward. The next day I went midfield so he was pushing me back and back. Eventually, I got to corner-back.
"No matter what, you're always trying to get on the first 15. Regardless of what a manager wants or what the team is or anything like that, you're saying, 'I want to put my hand up and I want to be playing'.
"You would be delighted to be around the middle of the field. You get the chance to do a bit more hurling, open up the lads and express yourself a little bit more. It can be very restricting at corner-back," he acknowledged.
His alliance with Burke goes beyond the hurling field as they are both teachers in St Brigid's Vocational School in Loughrea.
"I know David since we started hurling from U-14 or U-16, right up. The two of us are teaching there in Loughrea. He's a woodwork teacher, I'm a metalwork teacher, so he's directly across the hall.
"You'd be talking every now and then when you have time off in between class. You wouldn't be talking hurling all the time or anything like that. We'd talk about anything."
Coen acknowledges that the club rivalries have had to be set aside for the common good of Galway hurling in recent years.
"There was a time people were talking about it, the club scene in Galway was quite strong, no doubt. Portumna were flying, St Thomas had won the All-Ireland, Clarinbridge had won the All-Ireland as well. When the club championship is so strong, people will inevitably say that they're not gelling but now we're teaching together, we're living together and if I'm wearing a blue (Loughrea) jersey one weekend, I'll be putting on my maroon jersey at training for the next four weeks and that will be that."
That sense of brotherhood extends to Coen putting his trade skills to good use with some of those he shares the Galway dressing-room with.
"I've actually bought a house and have been refurbishing it. I've been keeping handy at that. Obviously, there's always jobs for doing and I'd be trying to give a helping hand to a few of the lads who are doing their houses and that sort of stuff as well."
Coen feels no pressure from within Galway to win an All-Ireland title after near-misses in 2012 and 2015 and that motivation comes from within.
"It's not like an added pressure or anything like that from the Galway people, it's a desire from our squad and our team that we have to keep on because if we don't get to the All-Ireland first and foremost and then deliver an All-Ireland final performance and get over the line, realistically a Leinster title and a league title will soon be forgotten about."
They've sought to use those All-Ireland final defeats to their advantage. "You're putting in huge graft and effort and then you wake up Monday morning and you say, 'oh, that's it now. There's nothing to show for all of our efforts.' We've tried to put all those years behind us, learn from them no doubt, but really drive it on for this year and hopefully get to another level," he said.
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