Galway can be thankful they had Donoghue on their side and their line
The manager gave a masterclass in precision during the All-Ireland final
Micheál Donoghue: only when the final whistle went was the Galway manager swept up in the emotion of it all. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty
They say All-Ireland finals are not necessarily won on the sideline, or in the making of substitutions, but they can be lost there, and for that Galway can be thankful they had Micheál Donoghue on their side and their line.
Because everything the Galway manager did at Croke Park on Sunday proved a masterclass in economy and precision and a cool hand in the making of this victory. He stood his ground and hardly moved a metre to his left or right, every instruction delivered with the sense of purpose and meaning and effect that was intended.
Only when the final whistle went was he swept up – or rather off his feet – in the emotion of it all, and after that there was no containing it: twice he returned to a section of Galway supporters sitting behind him and raised his fists as a sign of both approval and appreciation.
The 16th man, Galway’s captain, David Burke, later told those same supporters, as well he might.
In the white-knuckle heat of battle Donoghue made two purposeful motions to his replacements; first, Niall Burke coming in for Jonathan Glynn on 42 minutes, just as it dawned on us all that Glynn’s game was over; then Jason Flynn for Cathal Mannion on 55 minutes. Both those replacements worked a treat, Burke and Flynn adding two each from play; Flynn might well have added a third too.
His only other change was bringing in Shane Moloney for his exhausted captain. And as Burke delivered his winning speech, Galway’s first since 1988, Donoghue stood next to Joe Canning, still only 28 but in his 10th season with the Galway senior team. They only had to look each other in the eye.
Then, when he entered that sometimes cold cavern of a room under the Hogan stand, Donoghue promptly illuminated it, firstly with his beaming joy, but mostly with relief. “Ah yeah, absolutely, pure relief,” he said. “I was dreading coming in here if we hadn’t.”
That pressure, deserved or otherwise, was building on him since 1988, and the way he dealt with it, all season, is worthy of the achievement. “It is always there,” he said, “but one of the biggest strengths that we got off each other is that we really excluded everything outside of our own circle, outside of our own dressingroom. We couldn’t control what was being said about our team.
“Of course there was going to be pressure: we’d gotten to the final again, and I suppose if we didn’t win again . . . The biggest thing for me was that if we didn’t win today, and knowing the effort, sacrifice and commitment these boys had put in, and what they would face next week if they’d lost today.
“So it wasn’t about the pressure on me or the team, it was just how these boys had been questioned year after year. And, as I said, the resilience they had shown. At the start of the year we had our goals. We took one step at a time right throughout the year, and everything we asked of them they bought into. We were in a serious frame of mind coming up today, and we knew we were in with a serious shout.”
Afterwards the Waterford management were adamant they would have done nothing different. “Nothing”, said Derek McGrath, who had nothing but pride for his players, especially in their moment of resolute disappointment.
Throughout the game, however, Waterford’s efforts to get Austin Gleeson into the game proved in vain: their selector Dan Shanahan was asked by RTÉ Radio at half-time if that was the instruction, to which he replied: “Stupid question”. Of course it was.
They say All-Ireland finals are not necessarily won on the sideline, or in the making of substitutions, but in some ways at least this one certainly was.