Connacht? Galway? All the same for Hayes
Damien Hayes celebrates his goal against Kilkenny in the league match on Sunday.
The stop-start nature of the league means all the hurling teams return to hibernation for a fortnight. Except Galway: they will spend the next seven days as ambassadors for their province. As far as the Martin Donnelly Interprovincial Cup is concerned, the Tribesman assume the role of Connacht and for once, their status as hurling enclave in a football province is an advantage.
Having qualified for next Sunday’s final against Munster, they will train as usual and treat it as an extra game in their league calendar. As ever, the strongest advocates for the storied competition are the players.
“It is very important to us,” Damien Hayes said after Sunday’s win over Kilkenny, in which he scored one of his trademark turn-on-a-sixpence goals.
“There are lads in our panel that don’t have Railway Cup medals – I am one of the few that is lucky enough to have won one. We are in the final and they are there to be won. It is very much part of our set up . . . we have a strong panel and will put out a good team and we will be going out to win it, anyways.”
The delight which registered on Hayes’s face after his goal, deep in the first half of an entertaining season opener against the All-Ireland champions, was proof of how much the game still means to the Portumna man. He looked as sharp as ever.
If Galway harbour any regrets about the riveting All-Ireland final series which they ultimately lost to Kilkenny, they are keeping them to themselves. Hayes was pleased by the win but wasn’t attaching any significance to the fact it came against the team in black and amber.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing, it is good to win games. We don’t take it any other way, it is nice to win games.
“We scored three goals there and they were good goals but we needed them because we weren’t scoring many points. But the crowd loves goals so it was great. Both teams put out strong sides and that is what you want. We have strong panels and players will be pushing.”
The new names on the match programme was further evidence of the reserves of talent within the county and the intention is to use the Railway Cup final to audition more players.
“Look, if we weren’t playing a Railway Cup final then we would be playing a 15-a-side against ourselves,” says Galway selector Mattie Kenny. Next weekend’s match will be the first of two consecutive visits to Cusack Park in Ennis for the Galway men.
“Yeah . . . we play Clare there in two weeks’ time,” Kenny says. “Cusack Park is never an easy place to go for a victory.
“The next few weeks we just have to work hard for ourselves. We knew in January and February we were a bit behind in our touch and ballwork and we need to bring that part of our game on a bit. There is lots of time.
“Against Kilkenny we gave a workmanlike performance without being brilliant. The goals were good but it put the lads in a false position because we went in at half-time with only four points scored – if you had eight or nine points to go along with the three goals, then you have something to build on. Kilkenny were really in the game. We actually lost the second half by a point.
“So the Railway Cup will be a good competitive game. We will mix some of the team with other guys who need hurling. It is all about trying to get as much hurling as possible.”
The inclusion of Joseph Cooney in Sunday team’s inevitably evoked warm memories of his father Joe among Galway supporters old enough to remember the county’s last period of grandeur in the 1980s. But the younger Cooney’s solid and authoritative display at centre-back gave reason to look to the future with optimism as well. Building on last year’s Leinster championship and All-Ireland final appearance is the immediate task for Galway. As Hayes sees it, there is one simple way of doing that: “Well, to try and win our games. There will be no soft chat here. We have a big panel and want to push ourselves and try to win our matches.”
And if a Railway Cup becomes their first silverware of the year, they will happily take it.