Friday 13 December 2019

Galvin standing tallest for Clare when it matters most

Colm Galvin's talent, drive and leadership make him stand out like a giant in possibly the greatest U-21 side in history

Colm Galvin has become a landmark figure among the most talented young generation of players Clare have ever produced. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Colm Galvin has become a landmark figure among the most talented young generation of players Clare have ever produced. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Christy O'Connor

Last December, when the Clare U-21 management and players sat down together to prepare for the season, they planned with the forensic detail which has become their hallmark. Goals and objectives were set. Targets were identified.

When the players were broken up into focus groups, the feedback provided the words on which they intended to frame the coming season.

One of their chief slogans was, 'Stand up when it matters'. The management do a PowerPoint presentation the night before every championship match, outlining the game-plan, analysing the opposition and discussing the challenges that lie ahead. Yet the last slide they always show contains those five words: 'Stand up when it matters'.

In the Munster semi-final against Tipperary in July, the players put real meaning to that expression. With less than 20 minutes remaining, Tipp were leading by three points. They had a stiff breeze at their backs. They were playing the better hurling. Tipp had all the momentum.

Clare were on the ground and were gasping for air but when it really mattered, they stood up.

Seadna Morey was brilliant but nobody led the charge that evening more than Colm Galvin. He had been quiet in the first half but once the real heat came on, Galvin grabbed the match by the throat. He controlled the tempo in the middle third. He levelled the game with six minutes remaining.

When the sides were still deadlocked in injury-time, Tipp's Colin O'Riordan was heading deep into enemy territory. Galvin hunted him down before turning over possession and forcing a long-distance free which handed Clare the opportunity to win the game. The Banner sealed the deal in extra-time.

Galvin's performance was even more impressive given that he went into that game with a hand injury. He had also been on a course of antibiotics after a cut he received in the senior qualifier against Wexford five days earlier became infected.

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"It didn't make any difference what injury he had," says Gerry O'Connor, Clare's joint U-21 manager. "Galvin was possessed that night. Absolutely possessed."

Morey, Aaron Cunningham (Clare) and Jack Guiney (Wexford) have been brilliant in this U-21 Championship but Galvin has been the best player in the country at this level this season. On a Clare team loaded with talent and class, possibly the greatest U-21 side ever, Galvin has stood out like a giant.

Although he won an All Star last year, Galvin doesn't have anything like the same profile as some of the other young Clare senior players. He doesn't carry the marquee status of Tony Kelly, Podge Collins or Shane O'Donnell. Yet the respect he has earned is enormous.

"At the moment, he is the most complete player in the county," says former Clare centre-back Seán McMahon. "He has all the key attributes you want: pace, workrate, he's good going backwards and forwards. His tackling is phenomenal for a guy who isn't that big. He's well able to score.

"His consistency is something else. He reminds me of Liam Doyle, who was the most naturally talented hurler I ever saw. Doyle read the game so well and he always had time on the ball. He always made it look so easy. I think that's part of the reason Colm Galvin doesn't have the profile he does; he makes it look so easy."

Galvin is a multi-talented player: classy, highly skilled, huge pace, an extremely accurate shooter from distance - he has scored 0-12 in 14 Championship matches. Although he only stands at 5ft 10ins and weighs in at around 11 and a half stone, he is incredibly strong in the air. He has also long been regarded as one of the best tacklers, within the senior squad.

"The guy's ability to hit in the tackle for someone of his size is incredible," says O'Connor. "Whatever way he is built, he has this ability to bury guys with crunching tackles."

John Conlon, Galvin's Clonlara and Clare team-mate, has experienced that intensity and ferocity first hand.

"For a small guy, his tackling is second to none," says Conlon. "He is unbelievably hard. He's a very hard guy to get around."

He has a body swerve and an ability to glide around the field, but his workrate marks Galvin apart. He covers more ground and makes more tracking runs than any other player. He is the essential modern midfielder.

Everything he does though, is underpinned by a savage intensity and will to win.

"What makes Galvin the player he is, is this insatiable desire," says O'Connor. "He has this saying, which he always uses, 'You have to have the want'. When new players come in, Galvin is almost saying to them, 'Have ye guys the want that I have to win'.

"He is some detail when it comes to getting the serious business done. He just oozes absolute confidence. "

Galvin has become a landmark figure amongst the most talented young generation of players Clare have ever produced. He is one of five players seeking to win a third successive All-Ireland U-21 title today against Wexford.

Prior to 2009, Clare hadn't even won a single Munster title in the grade, having lost 12 provincial finals, but they have become the brand leaders at this level, now aiming to win four All-Ireland U-21 titles in six seasons.

So many of this sensational generation were so young and ambitious and in such a hurry to seize the future that they grabbed it last year with a senior All-Ireland. A third successive U-21 title now, in comparative terms, would place their achievement just behind the Cork four-in-a-row successes between 1968-1971.

Tipperary (1979-81) and Limerick (2000-02) won three in a row but it took a share of those Tipp players the guts of a decade to win an All-Ireland senior title, while Limerick never got the return from that golden generation that they expected to.

What would separate this Clare side though, is that eight of the panel already have All-Ireland senior medals. Similar to that Cork crew from 1968-71, many of them won their first All-Ireland senior title in 1970 before bagging three more by the end of the decade.

Winning more senior All-Irelands is also a realistic target for the current generation of young Clare players.

"Colm was always a confident young lad but he has been lucky that he has come up with such a brilliant and confident group and breed of Clare hurler," says Conlon.

"He does have a strut about him but all the young Clare guys have that confidence and swagger that comes with success. They expect to win everything. They come into the set-up as leaders and nobody is more of a leader than Colm."

The experience of this group is phenomenal. Eight of them have already played senior Championship while three more have got game-time in the League. After decades of hardship and failure at underage, Galvin is one of a handful of Clare players who has never lost an underage game in Munster at minor or U-21 in the last five seasons.

Clare's joint managers during that crusade, O'Connor and Donal Moloney, first laid eyes on Galvin in 2009 when they brought him into the minor squad for a couple of weeks when he was only 16. A year later, they started him at corner-forward in their opening match against Waterford. He came out to midfield for the second half and has remained there ever since.

He made his senior debut at 19 when coming on against Dublin in the 2012 qualifiers before starting at midfield a week later against Limerick. Clare lost but Davy Fitzgerald announced his intentions for the future by starting four 19-year olds - Galvin, Tony Kelly, Morey and Cunningham. Galvin hit three points from play in a stunning starting debut.

Phenomenal

His consistency ever since has been phenomenal for such a young player. Although he was taken off against Cork this year in the Munster senior semi-final, his switch from midfield to centre-forward in the middle of that game was a surprise given the damage Cork continued to cause in that sector.

He scored two points and his substitution with 20 minutes remaining was even harder to reconcile given that only Colin Ryan had made more plays than Galvin up to that point.

"He always gives it everything," says Conlon. "His work-rate is something else and he is very selfless. He is just a complete natural talent. He will mature and become even better and drive the club and Clare forward. For a lad of only 21, he is a real natural leader."

Galvin comes from a strong hurling family in Clonlara. His father Kevin is the club senior hurling manager. His younger brother Ian was a Clare minor this season and is one of the outstanding young prospects in the county, with an almost identical style to his older brother.

Studying teacher-training in Mary Immaculate College, Galvin is regarded as one of the real characters in the Clare panel.

"He is energetic and the soul of the party, always at the centre of the craic," says Conlon. "He's a real outgoing guy. He'd talk to the wall and socialise with anyone but he trains very hard is unbelievably competitive. He can have the bit of craic beforehand but when he crosses the line, he's some operator."

Across the white line is his arena, his stage. Before Clare went back out for extra-time against Tipp in the Munster semi-final, Donal Moloney was delivering his final words when Galvin demanded the floor.

"He only spoke for 15 seconds but the passion and power in his delivery was something else," says O'Connor. "He just demanded a performance and then he went out and delivered big-time for the next 20 minutes. It was one of the most clinical shows of leadership I've ever seen."

Stand up when it matters. This crowd always do. Especially Colm Galvin.

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