Galway’s Johnny Coen not looking back with any anger
Midfielder says panel’s eventful trip to Boston in 2015 helped bring squad together
Johnny Coen in Croke Park to launch the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic. “There’s a serious effort required, hopefully we can replicate what we did this year.” Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
As hurling turning points go, Fenway Park in Boston seems an unlikely venue and yet it’s there that Johnny Coen traces some of the trail of last month’s All-Ireland victory.
In November 2015, having lost that year’s All-Ireland hurling final to Kilkenny, Coen travelled with the Galway team to play Dublin at the AIG Classic at the famed baseball grounds.
Although essentially an exhibition 11-aside game, Galway fought exceptionally hard (a few punches included) to beat Dublin, and that, says Coen, counted for more than just the end result.
At the time the Galway team were without a manager, a vote of no confidence in Anthony Cunningham had been announced just a few weeks before. After a cold stand-off Cunningham eventually stepped aside, and was later replaced by Micheál Donoghue. The new manager’s regime this year helped end a 29-year wait in Galway hurling history.
Coen says he doesn’t harbour any great sense of vindication in the aftermath of that episode, even after Galway beat Waterford in this year’s final. But it did provide some further feeling of unity within the team, and an extra sense of purpose in where they went from there.
“It’s not as if we’re looking back saying it was a fantastic decision, or anything like that,” says Coen. “It was something nobody wanted to go through.
“I would have worked with Anthony [Cunningham] since under-21, and he brought us to the All-Ireland and we won it in 2011 against Dublin. He’s given a lot to Galway hurling, a fantastic player as well, so I’d hope there’s no hard feeling.
“But yeah, it brought us together as a group, it was one-in all-in and we rallied together, obviously. Again nobody really wanted to go through it. But the team felt it was the right thing to do, and I do think that trip to Boston helped bring the team closer together. We came back stronger for sure.”
Coen will make the same trip next month, Galway again playing Dublin, with Clare playing Tipperary, the winners of meeting in the final. In the meantime the revamped hurling championship structure means there are no draws necessary for 2018, as both the Leinster and Munster championship are played off of a round-robin basis, with five-team groups, each having a guaranteed two home and two away games.
This will also mean Galway get to play home games at Pearse Stadium for the first time since joining the Leinster championship, and Coen is naturally excited at that prospect – particularly as they look to defend their Leinster title.
“With the changes, we’ve four games now, two in Galway, and I know Micheál and the lads are putting pen to paper and putting their own plan together for the year. Everything has to be changed, the early start, and the need for more players as well.”
Those five-team groups, due to be played off over five successive weekends (one team having a bye each weekend, with two of the four games guaranteed at home venues) are down to start on Sunday May 13th, through to Sunday June 10th. That will also necessitate an earlier start to the league, although Coen rejects the suggestion all this may somehow water down the league status as a whole.
“I don’t think so,” says Coen, Galway still playing out of 1B next year despite being league champions!
“We won the league this year and really valued it in terms of preparation for the championship. I know we’re in 1B, but we would have aspirations to get into the quarter-finals, and lay down a marker again, not conceding an inch.
“In some ways, we were very disappointed when we lost to Wexford, felt we put in a good performance for long periods of it, but since then we’ve won every game, after a shaky enough start against Waterford, rallied at the end. So it can be an advantage in trying out new players, and with the minors that won this year, and three years ago, it will be interesting to see who gets the chance.
“This year we got over the line, it’s hard to win one, never mind two. There’s a serious effort required, hopefully we can replicate what we did this year. The smallest thing could change your season very quickly, the bounce of a ball.”
And with that he gives an example, Coen being the player to hand-pass the ball to Joe Canning seconds before his sensational winning point in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary.
“Had Joe not been behind me, I could have taken a shot in anger myself, and it might not have been the right call. These things happen in hurling, sometimes you get the rub of the green and sometimes you don’t.”