Thursday 17 January 2019

'We know ourselves that what we did last year isn't going to be enough'

Galway's All-Ireland winning manager Micheál Donoghue wants September glory to be a launchpad, not a one-off coronation

Micheál Donoghue was busy plotting Galway's 2018 campaign 10 days after lifting the Liam MacCarthy in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Micheál Donoghue was busy plotting Galway's 2018 campaign 10 days after lifting the Liam MacCarthy in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Ten days after last year's All-Ireland final, Galway's hurling management team met to begin the planning for that awkward second album.

All around, it still felt as if the county was swept up in the afters of some great, delirious wedding but, rather than sit on their thrones now like self-satisfied hens, Micheál Donoghue and Co were inclined only to roll up sleeves. The county's first senior win in 29 years could be either an opportunity or a trap now.

And they weren't of a mind to leave that distinction up to chance.

Seven months later, they arrive on the championship doorstep with a League title forsaken and, like the rest of the hurling world, mildly apprehensive about the changed personality of what's looming. Small things squeezed their early season preparation, not least convulsive weather conditions, delaying the return of roughly half their group from the team holiday until maybe two weeks before their opening League game against Antrim in Salthill.

By the time Galway pitched up in Wexford Park on March 24 for a quarter-final, they were beginning to find real traction again, just not enough to subdue a home team hurling its socks off for Davy Fitzgerald.

To Donoghue, defeat was scarcely planned then, but neither was it seismic.

"Of course we wanted to go further in the League," he explained over a coffee in Oranmore this week. "You want to try and defend everything you won last year. But a few things outside our control came into play and, when we slipped out of the League, it just gave us that bit more time to push on in terms of training and preparation for what's coming down the track."

Just as water finds the point of least resistance, Donoghue is attuned to the threat of complacency now contaminating any weaker minds within Galway's set-up.

He wants the 2017 All-Ireland win to be more than some kind of historical deviation. The reaction in the county last September was, as he puts it, "nuts" and, if it was hugely important for the group to enjoy that, it was equally important they understood how quickly momentum can slip through careless fingers.


He is an innately guarded, quiet-spoken figure and that public reticence led, initially, to Donoghue being on the wrong end of punditry curdling, in one instance at least, into parody. But success quietens the mob and, from the moment Galway devoured Tipperary in last year's League final, it became clear he's not a man who needs to shout to be heard.

His way is to endlessly name-check lieutenants, Franny Forde, Noel Larkin, Damien Joyce and Dave Morris; to credit the work of people like strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein, or nutritionist Maeve Gacquin; to reference the importance of trust and delegation in creating the culture he has in mind for Galway hurling.

A culture for the long-term, not simply tomorrow.

"This isn't about what Micheál Donoghue wants," he stressed. "It isn't about personalities. It's about keeping Galway at the top table now for as long as we possibly can. That has to be the end goal. Everybody has to be aligned with it and, sometimes, there's difficulty with that.

"When you're in this environment, of course you want things to be happening faster. Everybody has to be of the same mentality. I've said this numerous times ... if you put your hand up to do a job, you have to do it to the best of your ability. You have to leave it in a better place.

"And you have to understand that the world has changed and the qualities needed for that job may be very different to what they were even 10 years ago. My philosophy is maximise whoever you can to get us there, be it inside the GAA circle or outside.

"I wouldn't say we're encountering road-blocks. It's just ... look when you're in the position that we're in, you want things to happen. And that's not necessarily being critical. But, if you think you can add something or require something to get us there quicker, of course you're going to look for it.

"And I'm no different to Davy Fitz or Mick Ryan or ... maybe not Brian Cody ... but we want to close the gap, we want to ensure that we're here for the long-run."

Donoghue admits that he coveted the Galway job long before his appointment in December of 2015. He'd put his name forward for the position after guiding home club Clarinbridge to All-Ireland club glory in 2011 and, having been overlooked, accepted Eamon O'Shea's invitation to work as a member of Tipperary's back-room team in 2014 and 2015.

Replacing Anthony Cunningham in Galway was never going to be simple or low-key, given the dressing-room coup that unspooled within weeks of contesting the '15 All-Ireland final. One of Donoghue's first acts on his appointment was to meet Cunningham to get a keener sense of what it was that had just unraveled.

"I desperately wanted the job and was hugely disappointed that I didn't get it the first time," he reflected candidly. "But, in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened me. Because I then got that opportunity with Tipp and, by the time I came back, I was far better equipped for Galway.

"I had a better understanding of the job having been with one of the top teams in the country. Look, I went down to Tipp through my friendship with Eamon, not knowing if I'd ever get the chance to manage Galway. And everything about their set-up was top-class.

"Just being in that environment was a massive stepping-stone. Of course you're learning from it. And one of the things I learned was that, much as I love coaching, I knew I couldn't do it at inter-county level. I knew I had to be the one taking a step back.

"So Tipp was massive for me."

His admiration for O'Shea is unequivocal and the Cloughjordan man has been among those Donoghue invited to address his dressing-room during the last two years. Others include Pat Lam, Eric Elwood, John Muldoon, Gavan Hennigan - the young Galway man who rowed the Atlantic - and, the weekend before last year's final against Waterford, Paul O'Connell and 'Rory's Stories' creator Rory O'Connor.

The weekend before Clarinbridge's All-Ireland final, he brought them away to St Helen's where Tipperary's All-Ireland winning manager of 2010, Liam Sheedy, spoke to the group.

Donoghue admits to a voracious appetite for information from other sports and, spending long hours on the road in his work with BMW financial services, allows him feed it. He has become a recent convert to Joey Barton's 'The Edge' podcasts, in which the controversial footballer conducts extensive interviews with a disparate selection of people, including one recently with Burnley manager Sean Dyche.

You want eyes and ears everywhere?

"Everywhere" he agrees. "I love sport, I love exploring the psychology of it, seeing how others do things. So, of course you're always, instinctively, picking others' brains. If you can take something from them that improves you even one per cent, why wouldn't you?"

Securing Polish S&C coach Kirszenstein on a full-time basis for the next three years, working across all age-grades, is precisely the kind of commitment Donoghue believes Galway hurling needs to keep making now if the legacy of last year's All-Ireland win is to extend beyond a photo-album.

"I want whenever we step away, that we can say we've left Galway in a better place," he stressed. "And I'm blessed that Noel, Franny and myself are completely like-minded on this. We're trying to put something in place where it's easier for the next fella to come in and just continue the job.


"The biggest thing for me with the Galway players was that they had to understand the responsibility.

"I kept telling them that, the responsibility they had when they put that crest on their chests ... that they're always going to be judged, whether they had the jersey on or off. Once they understood that and they understood the standards that we set collectively, once they bought into that and the trust was in place, you know it's easier to let them off.

"But if they step outside those standards, which are non-negotiable, that's where this (claps his hands together) comes!"

Donoghue recognises, above all, that hurling is no libertarian paradise.

No sooner had the so-called 'Revolution Years' rolled through between '94 and '98 than the traditional old oligarchs (Kilkenny, Cork and Tipp) divided Liam MacCarthy up between themselves for the next 15 summers.

So, for all the gaiety and back-slapping of last September, Donoghue still sees this Galway project as "a work in progress".

"I think when you win, everybody jumps in and wants to be a part of it," he explained. "Everybody talks about making it better. But then, as time passes, you still have to have that motivation, that drive to push on. You still have to be able question yourself, 'are we doing this right?'

"In fairness, there's been huge elements of additional support that we've got this year, but we still have to keep the foot to the floor. Now that we've won it, now that we've tasted it, you have to maximise the opportunity both commercially and on the coaching side through underage. Yes, there's been a massive hit, young fellas everywhere walking around with hurls.

"These kids have modern-day heroes now, but we have to put everything in place to take advantage of that. Same with us. I can't stand still. We have to keep moving forward, making sure that the players understand that we have to keep raising standards. If we don't do that, if we don't keep driving it, what good is last year?"

He sees Galway hurling then, not at the mountain-top, but at an important, potentially defining crossroads here. And there are still stones in the shoe. The county still has no all-weather pitch and the 2017 U-21 Championship remains frozen at the quarter-final stage.

"Like, we're not content," he said flatly. "We know ourselves, internally, that what we did last year isn't going to be enough. The lads know that.

"And we just have to ensure that it's not 29 years again."

Irish Independent

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