Club and college progress suggest something’s stirring out west
Ex-player hoping Corofin and NUIG can add to the current positive vibe in Galway
NUIG’s Damien Comer celebrates his side’s second goal during the Sigerson Cup victory over DIT at St Loman’s GAA club in Mullingar. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
A big weekend beckons for Galway football.
With Galway also joint-top of the league courtesy of a third win over Mayo in a eight months, the mood is upbeat in the county. Although NUIG and UCG (as it was formerly known) are second on the roll of honour, that 2003 title is the only one since 1992 but that success 26 years ago was seen as a hugely significant milestone on Galway’s road back to football’s summit in 1998.
Seán Óg de Paor won two All-Irelands with Galway and captained the UCG Sigerson team. He has happy memories of his college career and acknowledges that in those pre-semesterisation days, life was less complicated.
“The tournament was a bit different to the way it is now. We had to play a preliminary match the fortnight before to qualify for our own weekend in Galway. I don’t know how much pressure is on lads from the academic side of things but back in ’92 it really wasn’t as intense. You could focus all your energies on the football. We had a great camaraderie is what I’m getting at and were able to spend a lot of time together.
“Exams were at the end of the year and it sounds a lot more serious now. I know Maurice Sheridan reasonably well and I think he has to be very organised. A lot of their training sessions are on in the morning when there are no lectures.”
Sheridan also has the difficulty of the clash with Corofin costing him the presence of wing back Kieran Molloy, who lines out with the club.
When in 1998 Galway won a first All-Ireland in 32 years, there were various influences: John O’Mahony’s management, Corofin becoming the first Connacht club to win the All-Ireland but the influence of that Sigerson victory was also acknowledged, as three starting players had featured in both.
“It was a huge deal for a lot of us – for all of us,” said de Paor, “because it was our first introduction to big-time football and it did play a very big role in giving guys belief that they could compete with the best players in the country. We beat Queens in the final and they had lots of fellas who had won All-Irelands so when we won, it gave us confidence.
“I’m looking at it from a Galway perspective and there were other counties involved as well but we had Gary Fahey and Niall Finnegan as well as myself as well as other fellas from the county like Conor McGauran and John Kilraine, who were playing with Galway at the time but were unlucky not to be around in 1998.
“Certainly that was a massive step for our football careers. Definitely.”
He says that he senses echoes of the 1990s in the busy excitement of football in the county at present.
“There was a feeling back then that perhaps the tide was beginning to turn. It has echoes of now in that there are seven or eight fellas on the NUIG team from Galway. Prior to ’92, we as a county were being written off and not going terribly well.
“At the moment Galway have been in Division Two the last few years and are now back up in Division One and doing well. NUIG now have Damien Comer, Peter Cooke, Séan Kelly and fellas like [Seán] Mulkerrins and [Céin] D’Arcy so it looks like a mirror image but you just don’t know what’s coming down the tracks.”
His caution is born of long involvement in Galway football as player and selector. He also played International Rules with Ireland and acted as a selector in Anthony Tohill’s management earlier this decade.
He references the experience of Connacht champions Roscommon, for whom a good start in the league two seasons ago led to nothing in the championship.
“Years ago, maybe you wouldn’t put a huge emphasis on the league but the team that wins the All-Ireland this year is going to come from one of those eight counties in Division One. Galway are now there but we’d be mindful and so would Kevin Walsh and rightly so – look what happened Roscommon the year before last. They had a great season in Division One but the championship was a disaster. You have to be careful of false dawns.
“But it’s the first time in a while that you go to Galway football matches thinking that the guys on the pitch are giving it their all and equally putting it all in away from the pitch. As supporters you can’t have any criticism if fellas are doing that. There’s a good, positive vibe there at the moment anyway.”