Ciarán Murphy: Galway must revel in role of party poopers

Tribesmen must learn to enjoy the suffering of others, just as Kilkenny once did

Tempers flare between Clare’s David McInerney and Joe Canning of Galway. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Tempers flare between Clare’s David McInerney and Joe Canning of Galway. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

There have been plenty of people this week going back to the 1980 final for a look at the last All-Ireland final between Limerick and Galway – a game with five goals, all of them utterly, happily overshadowed in the public consciousness now by a song and a speech.

In Galway there are plenty of links too to the final of 30 years ago, when Galway went and won a second All-Ireland title in a row and sealed that team’s legacy as truly great champions.

But surely a more pertinent example for them right now is one of the three finals they lost that decade, against Offaly in 1981. Because having been a feel-good story that everyone could celebrate when they won their first All-Ireland title after a long wait the year previous, then – as now – Galway suddenly find themselves in the rather strange position of party-poopers.

Johnny Flaherty’s late goal to win Offaly’s first ever Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1981 is the single most traumatic experience that many Galway fans have ever experienced on All-Ireland final day. My aunt has lived in Dublin since the mid-1960s and, last year, as we were preparing to go to Croker, she picked it out instantly as the worst of the 14(!) senior final defeats she had attended, in hurling and football, since she had moved from Galway.

But it wasn’t just the late sucker punch that cost Galway that day – the pattern of the game would look pretty familiar if you’ve been watching the reigning champions this year. They eased their way to a commanding first-half lead, only to allow Offaly to creep back into the game by idling in front. They handed the initiative to their opponents on that September day, but unlike the games this year against Clare and Kilkenny, they couldn’t wrest it back.

Hungrier team

There was also a feeling that day that Galway knew what it would mean to Offaly, and that while their own desire to win was always there, who could begrudge Offaly? Coming down the stretch, Galway had been outfought by a hungrier team. They could hardly say they’d been caught by surprise by that. No one knew what a win that day would mean to Offaly better than Galway, after all.

That’s exactly the sort of feeling that counties such as Galway and Offaly and Waterford and Clare have to battle against, always. It’s the sort of thing that, it is said, Joe Canning and David Burke in particular have driven their team-mates to distraction with trying to combat this year.

Kilkenny didn’t go into the 2007 final against Limerick thinking they had enough of these All-Irelands won. They certainly didn’t think it against Waterford the following year. To them, and to past teams from Cork or Tipperary, the idea would seem laughable.

When they went two points down against Clare in the second period of extra-time in this year’s drawn All-Ireland semi-final, Galway had every excuse to check out. They were without Gearóid McInerney, Joe Canning and David Burke, and Clare were playing like men inspired.

That Aron Shanagher goal, at the same end of the pitch, could easily have been this team’s Johnny Flaherty moment. The way they fought back that day suggests a refusal to bow to the institutionalised thinking that one win is enough to sate the appetite for another few years. The fact that they already had their All-Ireland didn’t enter their thinking.

Killer instinct

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Galway supporter after the replayed semi-final win succumbing to the temptation to say that whatever happened, Galway had been good champions, had got back to the final to defend their title, and that one way or another they hadn’t sunk without trace. But that’s precisely what Micheál Donoghue and his team have had to guard against.

Perhaps when the Galway players have suffered for long enough at the hands of a Kilkenny team who never felt like sharing success around, never felt like the All-Ireland was something that other teams won – as Jackie Tyrrell wrote in these pages earlier this summer, on the odd occasion they didn’t end the year as champions, he and his team-mates always felt someone else had won their trophy – that sort of killer instinct becomes easier to inculcate.

Last year, either result would have meant an extraordinary outpouring of goodwill towards the winner. Galway haven’t become an unpopular team, but they must know the bulk of public support will this year be with their opponents.

The key now is to try and convince themselves that, far from letting that infect their mindset, far from making them even vaguely uncomfortable, they must learn to revel in this situation and even use it to their advantage. They must learn, in short, to enjoy the suffering of others. And that starts with Limerick this weekend.

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