Saturday 24 August 2019

The 'slightest spark' can ignite 'proper rivalry' between Dublin and Galway

Ryan O’Dwyer in action against Galway in the 2011 Leinster semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ryan O’Dwyer in action against Galway in the 2011 Leinster semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Nobody's quite sure how it started but most are certain about when. "It really began in 2011 when we turned them over in Tullamore," says Niall Corcoran of the Dublin/Galway rivalry, the flintiest of his inter-county career which, as it happened, involved the county of his birth and the county he came to represent.

"For the Galway people, it was a major shock that Dublin had beaten them in a championship game. That stuck in their throats. And look, I'd hear it when I went home. 'How are Dublin able to turn over Galway in the Championship?'

"So there was an edge."

On the morning they played Dublin in the 2011 Leinster SHC, a feature in the Irish Independent gathered the thoughts of three Galway greats, Brendan Lynskey, Conor Hayes and Noel Lane, about the current state of the inter-county team, offering them up in all their unflattering nakedness. Hayes bemoaned a "culture of excuses".

Apologetic

Lane asked if the team had "the mental toughness or physical ruthlessness" to beat the newly-minted league champions. They read as mild, almost apologetic assessments when printed alongside Lynskey's thoughts.

"When backs are to the wall, they don't come out fighting," he said. "They remain against the wall. They capitulate too easily."

So if there was, as Corcoran says now, an edginess to that game, it came as a passenger on the Galway team bus.

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Dublin, for all their unmistakable progress under Anthony Daly, hadn't beaten a recognised hurling superpower in the championship yet.

And Galway, for all their uncertainty, hadn't entertained the notion that they would be the first. Thus, two opposite but equally aggressive forces collided.

"I got a bit of my ear cut off that day," recalls Ryan O'Dwyer, who twice came off injured before finally leaving the play for good in the 57th minute when Michael Wadding sent him off for a flick of his hurley to the helmet of Shane Kavanagh.

"The first bit was an accident," he says. "I went in to hook someone, Aongus Callanan, I think. He was pulling on the ball and I went in to hook him. But I was too close. He swiped down and it cut my ear, sliced down right along the side of the helmet. I got stitched and came back on.

"But then there was a ball dropping down on to the square and whoever it was - I don't know who it was - they got me in a headlock and dragged me to the ground as the ball was coming in and hit me while I was on the ground. So I went off and got stitched again. And then I came back on for a third time.

"And then," O'Dwyer adds as though the memory just landed, "I got sent off."

That was the start of it. The following April, they took up arms again in Tullamore in a Division 1A relegation play-off. Liam Rushe, totemic in the previous summer's game, was targeted by Galway, who lumped Cyril Donnellan on top of him.

"Liam was centre-back and him and Donnellan went at it," Corcoran recalls.

"Damien Hayes was going around giving lots of jabs. That's the way it was. Galway were looking to set a marker."

Dublin, meanwhile, finished with 13 players after Tomás Brady and Alan McCrabbe were sent off by Barry Kelly.

Galway won the replay and the teams stewed for a year until they got another crack at each other in the 2013 Leinster final. "The real sickener was the 2013 game, the Leinster final," says Corcoran. "That killed them."

By that stage, the rivalry was in full bloom. "The thing I hated about Galway was," says another former Dublin player from that time. "OK you don't mind if a team hit you hard, but they always mouthed at you."

Tide

Corcoran, who played for Galway in an minor All-Ireland final in 2000, came in for more of it than most. The tide quickly turned. Galway blitzed Dublin in Tullamore in Ger Cunningham's first championship tie in 2015 after a draw in Croke Park.

"Since I've been involved in Dublin, there has been that rivalry there," O'Dwyer notes. "I won't say bitterness, but there was a rivalry, where the slightest of sparks would set it off."

The teams came to blows later that year in Fenway Park in nothing more significant than a glorified 11 a-side challenge match.

When Anthony Cunningham was mooted to be one of Pat Gilroy's prospective backroom team in late 2017, there was initial resistance from the panel.

"I got to know him and he's sound," O'Dwyer explains. "But at the start, there was talk of him getting the job. And then he came in as a selector.

"And there was a bit of, 'F**k that, he's one of them'. But that's the way it was then. It was a proper rivalry," he adds. "It probably still is."

Irish Independent

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