Damien Hayes and Portumna ready to challenge again

Galway All Star saw ‘huge hunger’ return to the squad in 2013 after five-year drought

Last time Na Piarsaigh played in the AIB club championship, Ireland were playing a rugby international, just as they will be on Saturday, hours before the Limerick champions face three-time winners Portumna in the All-Ireland semi-final in Thurles (5pm).

On this occasion, however, Portumna's Damien Hayes will be on the field of play rather than on Lansdowne Road, where he spent the afternoon of last November's Munster final watching the traumatic defeat by the All Blacks.

When asked did he see Na Piarsaigh’s impressive win over Sixmilebridge, Hayes acknowledged this week that he hadn’t.

"I didn't," said the Galway All Star. "I was going to go to the Munster final but I got tickets to see Ireland versus New Zealand. I saw that as a huge opportunity. Claire, my wife, and I went to the Aviva. We'd never been to the Aviva. It was a great game to go to watch. Sometimes it's just to switch off."


He kept in touch with developments in Ennis but otherwise had determined to take a break that day.

“Of course you would, you’d be keeping an eye on it. But I just turned off, headed off for the day and we drove up and we went up early enough and spent a couple of hours in Dublin. Then we went to the match, got something to eat and we drove back down again. Sometimes a bit of down time is good as well, so that’s where I was.”

Portumna have had quite a bit of downtime in the past couple of years. It's all of five seasons since the most recent of the club's Tommy Moore Cups and four years since losing their last final. In the meantime, two other Galway clubs, Clarinbridge and St Thomas's, have added their names to the county's All-Ireland roll of honour.

The almost ceaseless routine of county championship, All-Ireland championship and back into county occupied Portumna for four out of five consecutive years in the last decade. Hayes says it was natural for anxieties to occur.

“I’d be lying to you if I said that I never wondered if we’d ever get back again. Everyone will ask them questions, ‘do you think you’ll get back?’ or whatever, and we did. I felt, in 2012, we got caught and in 2013 we had a very difficult game in the quarter-final against Ardrahan and we only won that game by a point. The county quarter-final stage is a very hard game because no matter what training you do, and what challenge matches you play, no challenge match can [replicate a competitive match].

“Then we drew with St Thomas’s in the semi-final and had them in the replay and beat them. Then we had Loughrea and it was those three games that really stood to us going into the county final. I noticed there was a huge hunger in the squad in 2013.”

The Ardrahan match stays with him as the signal that the club was ready to challenge again.

“If memory serves me right, I think we were two points down with about three minutes to go and we came back and won it by a point, which was great. We didn’t play great on the day and it was a kind of cold, winterish day but it was great to have won by a point and it gave our squad a bit of confidence because we hadn’t got past the quarter-finals in the two previous years, so it was nearly a monkey off our back and we were in the last four again.”

Thirty two later this month, Hayes also confirmed recently that he has been asked back on to the Galway panel to resume the county’s quest for a first MacCarthy Cup in 26 years.

He’s in no hurry though until after St Patrick’s Day.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times