McInerney rise key to Tribes' new-found tough streak
Two years ago, Gearóid McInerney was an unused substitute in the All-Ireland final as Galway lost to Kilkenny. He was in his mid-20s and was a peripheral member of an underachieving squad that seemed as far away as ever from ending its long wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
McInerney did not seem destined for greatness. But fast-forward two years and he is the defensive linchpin of the All-Ireland champions, the PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for September, and an All-Star nominee who could feel aggrieved not to be on the Hurler of the Year shortlist.
So what changed? McInerney (27), son of double All-Ireland winner Gerry, attributes his rise to prominence partly to improvements he has made, and partly to being better appreciated.
Certainly, his hulking frame and resilient character have fitted in with the Tribesmen's determination to toughen up physically and mentally: at 6ft 4in and 15st 10lb, the centre-back wouldn't look out of place in the Connacht rugby team's pack.
"Even from a couple of years ago teams have got a lot stronger and a lot better," he says. "There's always room for improvement. There's no roof on anything in terms of S&C and hurling ability.
"I had a good few things I needed to work on," he adds, refusing to blame his peripheral status on his club Oranmore's intermediate status. "But I'd have a strong mindset so it never really fazed me. It was just getting the head down."
That 'strong mindset' meant that he was never cowed by the levels of expectation in Galway, which some previous sides had found crippling.
"You develop a way of zoning all that out," he adds. "You're focused on what's happening inside the camp. And I always felt there was definitely an All-Ireland in the team."
Galway used to have a reputation for being a bit of a soft touch, despite their dazzling hurling ability; this was partly attributed to club-based divisions in the squad. McInerney reckons those doubts have been dispelled.
"When we are in with Galway we are a Galway team," he stresses. "We are like brothers and we can leave whatever happens on the field behind us. Lads are best friends afterwards. You have to leave that old way of thinking behind: 'Oh he's not a nice person because he did this or that during a training game or a club game'.
"Everyone has the same goal so you may as well be pulling in the right direction."
McInerney, who works in the family sports shop in Oranmore, reckons the decision to allow Galway to host Leinster SHC matches in Salthill, and to admit their U-21s into the province, will help the Tribesmen go from strength to strength.
"You can only look at it all as a positive thing," he says.