When Galway last won back-to-back All-Ireland senior hurling titles in 1987 and 1988, Joe Cooney and Gerry McInerney and their team-mates were giants living in a world of ordinary men. There was no social media, yet they were iconic figures known the width and breadth of the country.
As former masters of the game, they still enjoy cult status. That will never change although both were more than happy to pass on the torch when the Tribesmen ended the 29-year famine for the Liam McCarthy Cup last September.
What made it even more enjoyable was that both had sons involved in that historic success – Joseph Cooney and Gearoid McInerney – as they will have again today. As they recounted earlier this week, it was, in some small way, like getting to relive those glory days again.
GMc: Ah, it was. It was mighty. There was a bit of ‘been there, done that’ and it was good to be able to give them that bit of advice. If they ask your advice, at least you might know. So, it was good.
JC: You would enjoy it a bit more when you are looking in at it rather than being caught up in it. It was even nicer because you could take it all in. And you would have relived some of the memories from our own time as well. So, we got to be both sides of the fence. It was a relief really though (last year). When we won it, I also remember it was a pure relief. You would never think at any time that you might get to tog out in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park – and win one. We were able to do that and we were awful lucky that way. That we were there ourselves and then to have the lads involved last year was great. It really was something else. Unbelievable.
SG: Times have changed since those All-Ireland victories in the 1980s – no more so than in hurling. Are you blown away with the amount of sports science going into a team’s preparation now?
JC: To a certain point, it has changed completely but, at the same time, when you hit the pitch and the ball is thrown in, it is the same. It is about the ball. You have to go and win your area, win the ball, get your scores and stop scores. It all comes down to those 70 minutes. That is the way it is. So, it hasn’t changed that way.
GMc: I suppose, whatever was going on at the time, you were going to do it. And it was different times when we were playing. You had to go with the flow. That was the way it was. It was a man’s game – and still is too. You still have to stand up for yourself and if you don’t you will be walked over. No matter what you are at now, be it hurling or life, you have to stand up for yourself every day.
SG: From your own experiences in ‘87 and ‘88, how difficult is it to put titles back-to-back?
JC: To keep yourself right for the two years was the thing. Probably, you might think you were going better than you were and you might take the foot off for a small bit but you can’t afford to do that now. I don’t think these lads are doing it now. They have been fairly consistent and they are hard to beat.
I suppose, it is hard to keep it right when you are after winning it; every team is trying to beat you and pick holes in you. So, you have to be able to stand up to that and that is the difference when you are up there. Everyone wants to knock you and it gets harder and harder and harder.
For me, though, there is a great mix in this team and you need that when you are playing. We had a good mix of players and these guys seem to be the same as well. Also, when you are after winning one, you will get it into your head too that you are harder to beat. That is the way these lads are now and we were probably the same.
SG: Do you ever feel disappointed that the three-in-a-row didn’t materialise, particularly given much of it was down to circumstances – such as the referee – outside your control?
GMc: We probably took our eye off the ball as well. We could have beaten them (Tipperary, 1989 All-Ireland semi-final) – referee and all.
JC: There was not a whole pile in that game . . .
GMc: No Joe, there was not. 1989, the refereeing was putrid but you could say the refereeing in 1990 was no better. He gave frees for nothing. But we took our eyes off the ball in 1990.
SG: You had an unbelievable first half against Cork in the 1990 All-Ireland final Joe, so for you it must have been even more disappointing?
JC: That was just how the game went. We didn’t get as many opportunities in the second half. But they were definitely two matches and two years that we left it behind us.
GMc: But this team is far more focused. They have it upstairs. They have that mental strength. There is no messing and it is tunnel vision. If we were minded like that we would have gone on and won as many titles as Kilkenny. I mean, you have to pull in the reins an odd time but, in fairness to these lads, it is very professional and very well run.
SG: Why you think you might have lost focus? Was it a West of Ireland thing?
GMc: We were always confident going up. Weren’t we Joe, in fairness? It wasn’t upstairs.
JC: No, but you have to take your chances when you are there. It doesn’t come around that often. You will get a few years and that is it. You have to do it. The last one we won was in ’88 and we were still young enough but we didn’t win one again until last year. We thought, surely to God, we would get another one before we finished. So, when you are there, you have to make the best of it.
Hurling semi-final is off
Tomorrow’s County Senior Hurling semi-final is off, after Gort GAA Club officially informed Galway GAA that they will not be fulfilling the refixed fixture against St Thomas’.
A statement from the Galway County Board today (Saturday) confirmed Gort’s position, and asked patrons not to attend Kenny Park, adding that ticket refunds will be issued this week.
Galway U20s aiming to end long All-Ireland title famine
Galway U20 hurlers bid to secure the county’s first national title at this grade in a decade when they clash with Munster champions Cork in next Tuesday’s All-Ireland final at Semple Stadium, Thurles (7:30pm).
Under the old U21 grade – changed to U20 in 2019 – the Tribesmen won 10 titles, but, despite a plethora of All-Ireland minor crowns in the last decade, they have failed to swell the tally. Indeed, their only All-Ireland final appearance in this time was in 2016, when they lost out to Waterford on a 5-15 to 0-14 scoreline.
The inability to transition minor successes to the U20/21 grade has, perhaps, become more acute with the seniors’ failure to build on their memorable All-Ireland win of 2017 but, in any event, Galway U20 boss Jeffrey Lynskey says the pressure to succeed – and the ambition – is no different from that in any other Galway set-up.
“Yeah, look, every Galway manager is under pressure to win matches and win All-Irelands,” he states. “It won’t be from a lack of prep or work on Tuesday night. What we got to do is make sure we are right ourselves, individually and collectively, and go out and represent Galway and put in a performance that hopefully will get us over the line.”
Most of the discourse in the lead-in to this All-Ireland showdown, however, has been dominated by Covid-19. Originally scheduled for Saturday, August 7th, the fixture had to be pushed out by 10 days when it was confirmed a member of the Cork squad tested positive for Covid. The HSE decision subsequently instructed all members of the Cork camp to quarantine.
As that story was breaking, Galway were also hit with a case of their own and they, too, have had their preparations disrupted by a similar scenario. “So, they (players affected) have been in isolation,” confirms Lynskey. “We have followed all protocols and worked with our team doctor and the HSE.
“All the lads are due back this week and you are hoping we will have a clean bill of health by Thursday (today). Look, I don’t think there is a team out there that hasn’t been affected by Covid. We were down eight lads the last week, but it gave us a chance to work with other guys, in particular the (2020) minors. So, we have been working away with them.”
While those forced to stand out with Covid issues only missed two sessions, Lynskey notes that they will still have to be monitored upon their return.
“The team will be picked on who is healthy and who is able. I spoke to the Dublin management and they found with the lads who they had coming back (from Covid), their energy levels weren’t there. So, we will be monitoring the lads closely over the next couple of sessions. It is not easy, but you just have to deal with it and adapt.”
All going well, it will be the hurling rather than any other issue that will take centre stage next Tuesday. After wins over Kilkenny (1-18 to 1-13) and Dublin (2-15 to 0-15) in the Leinster semi-final and final respectively, Galway can enter this clash against favourites Cork with a great degree of optimism.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the Galway-Cork preview, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Difficult draw for champs St Thomas’ in senior title race
COUNTY SHC champions St. Thomas’ will have it all to do to defend their crown after they were drawn in a group containing two heavy-hitters in Cappataggle and Liam Mellows – along with the team that last dumped them out of the senior championship in 2017, Killimordaly.
St. Thomas’ claimed a famous three-in-a-row last year when defeating a resurgent Turloughmore in the county decider and, while they have avoided the 2020 finalists, they have been pitted against last year’s semi-finalists Cappataggle and 2017 winners Liam Mellows.
Both Cappataggle and Liam Mellows have consistently competed at the business end of the championship in recent years, with Cappy pushing Thomas’ all the way in last year’s semi-final, with the champions just edging the contest on a 1-15 to 0-17 scoreline.
While St. Thomas’ also saw off Killimordaly by 1-23 to 2-16 in the quarter-final stage in 2020, they will still be wary of a Killimordaly outfit that dumped them out of the championship at the preliminary quarter-final stage in 2017.
In the aftermath of that defeat, Kevin Lally took over the managerial reins and in the ensuing three years St. Thomas’ cemented their status as one of the county’s top clubs with three senior championship title wins on the bounce.
Over the winter, however, there has been a change in management, with Lally and trainer TJ Ryan stepping down and former hurler Kenneth Burke, who has a growing reputation as a mentor and coach, taking over.
Burke is also a son of former manager John Burke and what he offers is a continuity from two previous managerial set-ups that have been hugely successful.
The 2021 senior and intermediate championships commence on the weekend of September 11 and 12 and, as always, they promise much.
See the full draw and analysis in Tribune Sport this week. The Connacht Tribune is now on sale in shops, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie