Saturday 15 December 2018

'Micheál Donoghue texted me that evening and said you will be involved no matter what the outcome was'

Paul Killeen stayed involved with the Galway hurlers on stats work after suffering a cruciate ligament injury during their first Championship outing against Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paul Killeen stayed involved with the Galway hurlers on stats work after suffering a cruciate ligament injury during their first Championship outing against Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

The year was set up for Paul Killeen to finally make his mark at senior level for the Galway hurlers, but just 26 minutes into their first championship outing, his 2017 was over with a gruesome cruciate ligament injury.

Galway went on to win by 14 points against Dublin in that Leinster SHC quarter-final at O'Connor Park in Tullamore, laying down a marker in that impressive 2-28 to 1-17 victory.

The hype went into overdrive for Galway's credentials as potential All-Ireland champions that Sunday evening, but the Tynagh-Abbey/Duniry clubman was on his way for a scan that confirmed his season was over.

"Whatever way I put down my leg that was it, game over. It was simple enough how it happened. It was ACL and a bit of meniscus damage as well. I got an operation on it straight away and got a follow-up operation about a month later," says Killeen.

Paul Killeen in agony after suffering a cruciate ligament injury during Galway's first
Championship outing against Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Paul Killeen in agony after suffering a cruciate ligament injury during Galway's first Championship outing against Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

He's grateful to Micheál Donoghue and the Galway management for keeping him involved working on stats for the summer, but now he wants to get back on the field.

That injury to his right knee cost him his season and it was John Hanbury who took over in the left corner-back slot for the rest of the campaign. But that was never part of the plan for Killeen who started the year so brightly with Limerick IT.

Industrious

The industrious Killeen was completing a Business Studies and Sports Management degree in the college, and ended up propelling Davy Fitzgerald's side into the latter stages once again.

The Galway All-Ireland minor winner from 2011 was deployed in the forward line for LIT and scored freely in the group phase, before he notched 0-14 between the quarter-final and semi-final.

LIT lost their final-four clash with Mary Immaculate College and Killeen returned to action with Galway in the NHL against Offaly in a big 6-23 to 1-12 victory at O'Connor Park on February 12.

Just over three months, and one NHL title, later, Killeen's campaign was finished in an instant.

"The Sunday evening I went home after the Dublin game and I didn't know whether it was as bad as we thought or what. But Micheál Donoghue texted me that evening and said you will be involved no matter what the outcome was," says Killeen.

"From then on I was still part of it. The boys made me feel part of it as much as they could as well. It wasn't like you weren't just standing around like a spare part. It was just so good to be involved."

Outside of their Walsh Cup final defeat to Kilkenny and a season-defining loss at home to Wexford in the league, Galway went from strength to strength and took control of their own destiny in 2017.

They won the league after a shock 3-21 to 0-14 victory over reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary, where Killeen played a key role from corner-back. Galway didn't ease up in the Leinster Championship either, but Killeen only managed to experience some of the first half of their victory over Dublin before Offaly and Wexford were put to the sword.

"It's great to see the lads doing well. It's hard at times to look on when you think you could be involved. But at the same time it is great to see them going so well," Killeen adds. "When you finally see them reaching the potential that we have known was in us. That was the most satisfactory thing for me."

The former Galway U-21 captain watched on as Galway beat Wexford 0-29 to 1-17 for just their second Leinster title in front of a record attendance of 60,032 at Croke Park.

His rehabilitation continued behind the scenes while Rahoon-Newcastle's Hanbury gave some stunning displays in the No 4 jersey.

Galway were favourites for their first Liam MacCarthy Cup since 1988 at this stage and they crept past a resurgent Tipperary by a last-gasp Joe Canning effort in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 6.

The anticipation in the county grew as the Tribesmen hurlers prepared for a first ever All-Ireland decider against Waterford on September 3, and Killeen got to experience this one from the statistician's box.

"I was up with a few of the lads doing the stats for the game against Waterford. It was class, on All-Ireland final day, doing the stats was savage," recalls Killeen. "I got to see a totally different insight of what's going on. We don't realise it, we have the easy job of actually hurling on the pitch.

"The work that the backroom guys, like Derek Forde and Tex O'Callaghan do, it's crazy. You don't realise it half the time. It makes you appreciate it a lot more."

Galway claimed their first All-Ireland title in 29 years with a 0-26 to 2-17 win, and there was an emotional homecoming for the champions the following day, which Killeen took full part in.

Now 23, he has watched his teammates reach the ultimate prize in 2017, and his desire to win one on the playing field still burns bright. Killeen ran again on the training pitch for the first time on November 28, and aims to be back in maroon for the opening round of the championship, when Galway clash with Offaly on May 12.

"I did my first bit of running and it was nice to be back up and running before Christmas. I will be up against it coming back because I will have missed the league but hopefully if I get ticking in training I can push on a bit," Killeen says.

The Galway hurlers finally won an All-Ireland final, after six losses on the big day since 1988, but Killeen says he won't be the only one gunning for Liam MacCarthy again in 2018.

"It's not just me that will have that hunger either. It's been a great couple of months. In some ways it's flown, but in other ways it's gone slow. It's been a great winter in Galway," says Killeen. "It will make lads appreciate it that bit more and want to get back there again. We finally got the hump off our back and lads might hurl off the cuff that bit more. You never know but it will be an interesting year ahead anyway."

First up for Killeen will be a busy month in January on the training field as the Tribesmen, currently on their team holiday to New York and Mexico, set out to defend their league, Leinster and All-Ireland crowns.

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