Sean Silke: 4am wake-up, gearbag missing, and happy Limerick fans at the door

It was sometime around 4am on the Sunday morning of the 1980 All-Ireland final when Sean Silke was jolted from his sleep.

The Galway centre-back was awoken by a noise from outside his hotel bedroom door.

It was only then that he realised he had left his gearbag out on the corridor before turning out the lights — a decent indication of how relaxed the 29-year-old was ahead of his third All-Ireland final.

“We stayed in the Clarence Hotel on the quays. I think if they had tried to organise anything noisier, they wouldn’t have been able to do so because everyone who was at the hotel seemed to be a fan travelling up for the match or home from England or whereever. Everyone was giving you advice. There also seemed to be a wedding on,” Silke recalls with a smile.

The All-Ireland-winning 1980 Galway team. Back row: Conor Hayes, Steve Mahon, John Connolly, Michael Connolly, Michael Conneely, Frank Burke, Noel Lane, Sean Silke. Front l-r: Niall McInerney, Seamus Coen, Jimmy Cooney, Joe Connolly, Sylvie Linnane, PJ Molloy, Bernie Forde. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

“I was up in one of the rooms and there was this commotion along the corridor in the very early hours of Sunday morning. It seemed there was a crowd of Limerick lads who had been at a wedding.

“What had happened was that I had left my bag, with my gear in it, in the corridor.

“The lads had found it. Here was I saying to myself, ‘will I go out or not?’

“I went out to retrieve it and now they were well inebriated, but they were very nice, great fun, great characters, and cracking jokes. In fairness to the Limerick people, they realised what they’d found. They were as keen to return it, as I was to find it.”

No more than the current crop, Cyril Farrell’s charges flew from the blocks later that day and powered into a 2-1 to 0-0 lead. It confirmed to Silke — who along with Niall McInerney, John Connolly, Frank Burke, and PJ Molloy had started the 1975 and ’79 final defeats — this was Galway’s time.

At the break, they led 2-7 to 1-5 and were three clear — 2-15 to 3-9 — when referee Noel O’Donoghue brought proceedings to a close, the westerners celebrating a first All-Ireland in 57 years.

“Given we had lost so many All-Irelands through the ’50s and then into the ’70s, we were carrying a little bit of a burden of losers and that we couldn’t win. We gained experience in ’79, even if a lot of people thought we should have got over Kilkenny. There was a relaxed confidence in 1980, especially after beating Offaly in the semi-final.

“We were a positive group, very optimistic. We had this innate thing where, you know what, things will happen if you work for them. Mentally, the players were strong.

A lot of the previous players who had played in All-Irelands, there was a shared remorse about not getting over the line when they had the opportunity. This built a very strong inner-drive.

In the pitch invasion and Joe McDonagh’s stirring rendition of The West’s Awake that followed, what stood out for the Meelick-Eyrecourt native was then football board chairman John ‘Tull’ Dunne telling players in the dressing room “the lady above” had shone down on Galway.

“That was the religious connection, that there was a little bit of spiritual guidance to what we had just achieved,” remembers Silke.

My brother and a few of the lads from around Eyrecourt, we were dancing a jig around Croke Park. It was unreal. All of these people who were lifelong fans, they found the child in themselves all of a sudden.

That they failed to go back-to-back or add a second All-Ireland before that group disbanded was disappointing, but not totally surprising, the two-time All Star remarked. “We peaked at that time and were slipping after that. Had we won a little earlier in the ’70s, we might have won a couple. I am thankful for small mercies in life. That All-Ireland win was a very big mercy, a very big achievement.”

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