Tomorrow, he captains the side bidding to end that title drought against Clarinbridge in Pearse Stadium.
It is little wonder manager Mattie Murphy handed him the skipper’s armband this season. Coen is very serious about his hurling, and his club. He has worked hard for some tangible success. And he believes that now is the time.
“I have given huge commitment to sport for the past decade (he is also a regular on the Galway junior football team) and to win a county senior medal would at least justify that effort to some extent. I’m not alone in that. A lot of the players like Ollie Fahy, Peter Cummins and Gerry Quinn are years trying to win a county senior title. We got to the 2008 county final but were well beaten by a great Portumna team. Hopefully we will have learnt from that and we will get a different result tomorrow.”
The past year or two have been difficult off the field of play. He worked for a few years as a civil engineer after graduating from college in Edinburgh but found himself out of a job last year. Many of his former colleagues have emigrated, however Coen was one of the lucky ones, securing work with Medtronic in Galway city last March. To improve his employment prospects he has also undertaken the Hibernian online course to become a national teacher.
He explained: “It is a two year course and an opportunity to upskill. It will give me another option if the civil engineering work stays tight. I’ll have it and we’ll see how it goes. I am happy in Medtronic but the more qualifications you have, the better. Things are tough and you have to try and keep improving your chances of staying in work. Unfortunately there is a lot of unemployment around Gort and a lot of people have had to leave to get jobs.”
Coen enjoyed limited success in the intercounty game. He was involved with Galway under Conor Hayes, from 2003 to 2005 and returned to the panel in 2008 and 2009 with John McIntyre. He captained Connacht in the M Donnelly Interpros and travelled to Abu Dhabi to face Leinster in the competition decider three years ago. Happy days.
“Hurling has been good to me, in a travel sense. I went to China for 10 days in 2005 with Galway and I have been to Rome with the Railway Cup too and had a few trips to America. They were all to do with county hurling, however I never really made the full championship breakthrough at county level. It is a thin line. These things happen, but you move on. While I enjoyed my few years on the county panel, playing with my club has always been massive to me. To win a county title with Gort would be a dream come true.”
Facing them are the All-Ireland club champions. “Clarinbridge did fantastically well last year. They scored 2-18 against O’Loughlin Gaels in the All-Ireland final and we will have to produce a top class performance to better them. Last year’s success has given them a lot of confidence and they will believe, as we do, that they have what it takes to win. The likes of Mark and Alan Kerins, Barry Daly and Paul Coen are all top forwards and unless we bring our top game, we will be in trouble. We know they are a good side. We have to stay with them and not let them get into their stride. However we have fine young hurlers like Richie Cummins, Gerard O’Donoghue, Brian Regan and Aiden Harte and we are going into the game with confidence.”
Coen knows that time is running out for him in terms of such glamour clashes.
“I’m 31 in March and time is moving on. I made my debut in 2000 and as a team and club, we need to win a county title. Twenty-eight years is too long to go without winning the title. To win would justify everything we have done to get to this stage over the past few years. The club means everything to us. You give out about it sometimes, but at the end of the day, without the club, we would not know half the people we know.”
Memories of the last title success wouldn’t be far away for this side. Coen revealed: “Five of the fathers of lads on the starting team tomorrow won county medals in 1981 and 1983. Greg Lally, Brian Regan, Sylvie Óg Linnane, Aiden Harte and Richie Cummins have all been told stories from those two years and what the titles mean. We want to make our own history. It is our opportunity now.”