Friday 24 May 2019

The phone call in a New York bar that changed Galway hurling

Exiled pair might never have come home

Pete Finnerty. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Pete Finnerty. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It's early May 1987 in the Bronx in New York City.

The summer heat is just starting to take hold. Pete Finnerty and Gerry McInerney slide into one of the many bars on Bainbridge Avenue to listen to commentary on that year's league final that pitches their former Galway team-mates against Clare.

Listening to the game back then took a little bit of organising, and a fat wallet. They'd ring home and get someone to put the phone up against the radio. When the bill came, those listening in would split it between them.

Galway won that day and the seed had been sown. Finnerty and McInerney would be heading home to play again that summer.

"The thing about the league final was that the way we used to do it was that somebody would phone home and you'd get Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh on the radio and we'd all share the bill then.

"It was incredibly expensive to ring home. I can't remember the pub but it was Bainbridge Avenue anyway. The match was on at 3.0 but we were in the pub at 10.0 so it was very easy to change our mind at 5.0 in the evening!


"But yeah, it was the first real bit of silverware that we won. We were saying to ourselves that when you're so far away, 'We could give something to them, we're still worth more than just sitting here'.

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"That was more or less what changed our minds about going back," said Finnerty, who has teamed up with Guinness as part of their GAA campaign 'Bound Together'.

Despite collecting a couple of All-Stars, Finnerty was Stateside because he had enough of hurling.

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All-Ireland final defeats in 1985 and '86 stuck in the craw and saw him join McInerney in the 'Big Apple'.

"Phelim (Murphy, then Galway selector) rang and I was still reluctant enough, 'I don't know Phelim, I don't want to go back' and all of that.

"Of course (Cyril) Farrell came on then and that was it, 'Oh, we'll look after you'. We both had girlfriends out there at the time as well and it was, 'Oh, we'll bring them back as well'. I was saying, 'Mac, you can't trust them, you can't trust them, you can't trust them!'

"I went out in May and I had no real intention of coming back to be honest I was so discouraged with hurling and we lost in '85 and '86. I wanted to do something different.

"I was in the guards at the time and took a leave of absence and I came back then and they rang me and I said, 'No, I don't want to go back, I'm illegal' and then they kept at me and we came home but we only came home two weeks before the All-Ireland semi final.

"And then we were home for four weeks and we were gone again. So a six or seven-week campaign - that's all we had."

Even those few weeks home weren't without complication. That year's Leinster final was pushed back because a U2 concert at Croke Park had left the pitch unplayable, which in turn saw Galway's semi-final delayed.

When they did line out, McInerney donned his now famous white boots.

"We weren't just coming back totally rusty, we had a lot of work done. And Mac had an impeccable tan on him, and the white boots! I begged him, I begged him not to wear those boots.

"We went to a baseball game and he saw these cleats, as they call them in America, and he wanted to get them so he got them and he brought them home and he put them on. Lord!

"Nobody had them. Everyone thought he was playing in his socks because the bottom of the socks was white and they just thought he had no boots on at all.

"Mac was a little bit ahead of his time."

Those few weeks in '87 changed the course of Galway hurling.

Along with the late Tony Keady, the pair formed one of the game's most celebrated half-back lines as they swept to back-to-back All-Irelands, a feat Galway could repeat on Sunday.

And Finnerty is hopeful that Galway's experience of winning and losing on the biggest day will stand to them this weekend.

"There's two ways you can play; you can play to love to win, and always want to win and be the best, and then you can lose so much that you hate to lose, and I think it was more hatred of losing than the love of winning for us in '87.

"It was more relief than, 'Yes, we are the All-Ireland champions'. It does give you the experience of having been there, you knew exactly what the day is like, what's ahead of you, you know what it means marching behind the Artane Boys' Band."

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