Sunday 21 January 2018

'Formidable' Déise will be tough test, warns Donoghue

Galway manager Mícheál Donoghue after a press conference at the Loughrea Hotel & Spa in Loughrea, Co Galway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Galway manager Mícheál Donoghue after a press conference at the Loughrea Hotel & Spa in Loughrea, Co Galway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

So here he stands, on the cusp of a little bit of history. On Sunday, 29 years of waiting will boil down to 70-plus minutes. But you'd never know it from Micheál Donoghue's demeanour.

He gives little away in his pre-All-Ireland final briefing. His understated way has drawn some unfavourable comparisons during his reign as Galway manager. Ger Loughnane described him as an "amiable curate" and it wasn't meant as a compliment. Donoghue hasn't changed. He remains quietly spoken but there's a sense that there's an iron fist under his velvet glove.

Perhaps he was expected to make his mark on Galway hurling but in a very different way. Donoghue was highly-rated as a underage player, winning a minor All-Ireland in 1992 before following that up with an U-21 win the following year. Back then, the early rounds of the league were played before Christmas and Donoghue, still a teenager, was invited in.

"I went in in 1993 when the league was before Christmas. I broke my collarbone, had my first (back) operation. Then it was a year out, it was very much in and out, in and out."

He had three operations to fix a back problem, his first at 19. The first two were to fix a bulging disc in his back. For the third operation, which he had at 27, a piece of the disc had broken off completely. That signalled the end of his playing days.

He played championship for the Galway seniors in 1996 but his career with the Tribesmen ended almost as soon as it started.

It might have left him bitter but if it did, he shows no sign of that. These days, the injury he had is much more manageable but progress on that came much too late for him. He could only watch on as his twin brother Liam captained Galway in the 2005 All-Ireland final against Cork.

"I played in 1996. The game has moved on so much now in terms of recoveries and injuries. If you had now what I had, you might have a better chance of prolonging your career. I am not complaining.

"I don't really dwell on it. I had a decent career. We won two county titles with the club, I was captain for one and I was manager for the second. I was happy with my innings."

He was still in his twenties when his playing career came to an end and he quickly threw himself into management with the Galway U-21s.

"(Managing) helps fill the gap, but I just had a huge passion for it. No matter what length of time I played, I always wanted to get into the management and coaching side of it.

"When I finished, I went straight in with the Galway U-21s in 2005. Rather than taking time off, Vincent Mullins afforded me the opportunity to get straight in.

"Once I was in, that was it. I was involved when Galway won the U-21 All-Ireland in 2005 and 2007."

His coaching journey has seen him go from Galway underage teams to managing his club Clarinbridge to an All-Ireland club title. There was a stint cutting his teeth with Tipperary too. Along the way he has sought out expertise where he could. Eric Elwood and Pat Lam have been in with the Galway team. He's picked the brains of other managers too but won't divulge any names.

If they were playing anyone else, it's likely Derek McGrath would have gotten a call this week. The pair actually marked each other in the 1992 All-Ireland minor final and have become friendly over the last few years, linked by similar experiences of trying to bring glory back to two counties that have been away from the big time.

"He is still traumatised by it!" he jokes of that minor decider.

"I remember he was playing. It is not that I remember any huge aspect of the game. I wish it wasn't 25 years ago. It is kind of mad that after 25 years the two of us will be on the sideline. It is good.

"We are of the same vintage. I think he is doing a massive job down there. Obviously, he has more experience at this level than I have. Because we are of the same vintage, we made contact last year. Not that we'd contact each other regularly.

"At different periods over the year, we hopped things off each other. He is someone I have huge respect for, the way he carries himself, the relationship he has with his own players, is something we can all learn from. He is real passionate.

"The biggest thing I find is that if you ring them, you can have a chat with him and hop things off him. He's been good for me."

Twenty-five years on, the pair will lock horns again.

"They were unfortunate last year not to progress to the All-Ireland final. We are under no illusions. We are playing a team with huge experience. Derek has done a great job with them. No more than ourselves, they are where they want to be. They are going to be formidable."

Irish Independent

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