By Brendan O'Brien
Alan Kerins had little doubt but that Galway would blossom under Micheál Donoghue.
Good friends, the pair had played together on the Clarinbridge side that claimed the club’s first Galway senior title in 2001. O’Donoghue was captain at the time. A quiet type with presence who led by example. When he did speak, people listened.
O’Donoghue had won All-Ireland minor and U21 titles with the county, as well as a National League medal before a back injury curtailed his playing career and rerouted him towards the sideline.
A stint with Clarinbridge was all but inevitable. He took over in 2009, setting up the structures that would lead to a second ever county success the following year and the red-letter day that was their maiden All-Ireland win in 2011.
O’Donoghue made players believe in themselves. He squeezed the last drops out of the older ones, like Kerins, who scored two points in that All-Ireland final win against O’Loughlin Gaels.
Good men in Noel Burke and Tom Helebert were brought in to the backroom and, as with all great success stories, there was an element of luck. Clarinbridge had a small panel and injury never really appeared at the door at the time. “If we had one injury that year it might not have gone our way.”
Good fortune is just as valuable a commodity at the highest level — as Galway know too well given the width of a post separated them from an All-Ireland final and defeat in the replay against Clare — but it is worthless on its own.
Donoghue has fashioned a culture of collectivism that shuns individual glory, transforming Galway from nearly-men into a side that would begin to assume an air of pre-eminence in the modern game should they take care of Limerick this weekend.
"I knew that he would successful when he went in because of my experience with him,” said Kerins who was one of many Galway hurlers to experience September pain down the years. “He was a phenomenal manager and a lot of the players have really come on under his wing.
“Gearóid McInerney, Joseph Cooney, they are real leaders, and all the forwards have stepped up too with Joe (Canning) and their S&C with Lucasz (Kirszenstein).
Donoghue and his players have already assured themselves of a cherished place in Galway’s hurling folklore but the opportunity exists for them to go a significant step further and emulate the heroes of 30 years ago in claiming back-to-back titles.
“There is a bigger number of games (played now), definitely, but they will be both held in the same regard because they are still great legends and icons on the ’87, ‘88 teams. And there is a great family connection with Gearóid and Joseph and father and son on both teams.
“It’s great family tradition there and to do back-to-back in the modern era is harder, I’d imagine. What they did last year was brilliant and back-to-back would be a real bonus for their own legacy."
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