Colm Callanan pinpoints the day that changed his hurling career
From being an ex-county player to Galway's first All-Ireland winning goalkeeper in 29 years
Colm Callanan celebrates victory in the 2017 All-Ireland senior hurling championship final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photograph: ©INPHO/James Crombie
It came five years ago when having been cut from Anthony Cunningham’s first panel in late 2011, Callanan – having reckoned that this effectively ended his county career at 29 – was suddenly thrust back into the panel as a back-up to reserve Fergal Flannery if regular ‘keeper James Skehill didn’t recover from an injury.
Flannery played for the second half of Kilkenny’s emphatic win but Callanan was back on the inside and there he stayed all the way to last September’s memorable success, as the first-choice ‘keeper, taking the 2015 All-Ireland final and an All Star the same year.
So it was the 2012 injury to Skehill, who is just 30 this year and still on the panel, that re-opened his colleague’s career.
“It probably was,” said Callanan, speaking this week, “looking back on it. I wouldn’t wish it on him and I was praying he’d make the game because he’d had a brilliant season that year and was playing serious stuff. You wouldn’t wish an injury like that on anyone but he’s back at full tilt now and we’re going hammer and tongs to fight for the jersey.”
If anyone’s under any illusions as to how seriously he viewed the prospective end of his county days in the autumn of 2011, he spelled it out.
“James was there, Fergal Flannery, two young goalkeepers so probably looking at it (then), Anthony’s going to be there for however long, three or four years at least anyway so in that regard I said, ‘My goose is cooked here’.”
And so began the life of a former Galway hurler. The 2012 season was too raw for him even to attend matches and that included the All-Ireland final when it came around.
“I didn’t go to any game that year. I felt I’ll just watch whatever games are on TV. Like I said, I was probably resigned to the fact that inter-county was finished for me so I very much went back to the mode of playing with the club and enjoying a few things that I couldn’t do in the years previously, like go out on a Saturday night or go away for weekends and things like that.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about the decision to skip the final. “I’d just made the decision to watch it at home with my wife and there was no particular reason. Maybe I’d have found it hard to go to the game and knowing the lads so well and being so part of it, to be sitting down in the Hogan – I’d probably have found that pretty hard. The game was a draw and a big occasion, a big game. The fact that I’d time to absorb all of that – maybe helped me decide to go to the next one and see how that went.”
Which is what he did – except, as he put it himself, “sitting in different seats than what I’d planned to”.
His own long march to an All-Ireland medal was in lock-step with a county that hadn’t won a title for 29 years. Asked had it been an anti-climax when the whistle finally went on the three-decade wait, he demurs.
“Year-on-year looking at teams and captains climbing the steps and you’re trying to – you think you can imagine what they’re feeling and everything that goes with it and really until you go through it yourself you’re thinking, ‘Jesus, I was way off, this is absolutely unbelievable’.
“Even looking out on the pitch you’d love to go back to those few minutes after the final whistle and do that whole thing again, those 15, 20 minutes after the game is special – time-of-your-life stuff really.
“People say the last 10 years it wasn’t fashionable just to win one, especially Kilkenny, you’d say, ‘How are they so hungry to go back and do it again’ but when you go through and you see how special it is and what it means to people you wouldn’t be long understanding why you would go back and try and try and do it again and again.”
This weekend it all starts again. Galway’s clean sweep of league, province and Liam MacCarthy was launched from Division 1B. Callanan agreed that it may have been a benefit.
“It probably did. I don’t know about progress because in our second game we were beaten by Wexford, so straight away we were under a bit of pressure at home to buck up and get some results. We were probably resigned to 1A being unachievable at that stage. It was just about getting as much out of the league as we can.”