Kieran Shannon.


The Kieran Shannon Interview: John Galvin, former Limerick footballer

Limerick stalwart John Galvin is thankful for a career that was short of glory but full of honour. He has made peace with the disappointments and is ready to revisit them, writes Kieran Shannon.

The Kieran Shannon Interview: John Galvin, former Limerick footballer

HEN John Galvin looks back on it all, the highlight is inseparable from the low point.

Losing the 2010 Munster final may have been devastating but playing in it was intoxicating. The sun blazing down on him and 25,000 others in Fitzgerald Stadium and the buzz which they generated. Gooch at his best and Galvin in his prime too.

Everything about him that day radiated conviction and defiance. From the throw-in, he won the ball and stormed downfield, shaking off multiple Kerrymen to fist the ball over the bar.

Even during the second-half, when Kerry blitzed into a seven-point lead, Galvin kept roaring to his teammates. “One score!” That’s all it would take to break Kerry’s momentum and steady the Limerick boat.

Next thing, in an act of sheer defiance, he stripped Seamus Scanlon off the ball from a short kickout, ran down on Brendan Kealy’s goal and slotted it into the net. Now Limerick were making the charge.

With six minutes to go, they reeled off another score, their fifth on the trot, Galvin again the inspiration and finisher. That brought them level. And that was the moment. In a career that spanned 16 years, that was it.

When that ball is soaring over the bar, the roar of the Limerick crowd is soaring with it and every fibre of Galvin’s body is surging with certainty. At that point it is still possible. At that point, it is still on.

“Running out after that score I just thought: ‘There’s no way we’re going to let this go now. It’s finally going to happen.” It didn’t, of course.

Kerry did what Kerry so often do, rolling off three points, and Limerick did what they tended to do a little too often for Galvin’s liking. They would not score again and they would never get back to a Munster final again. That is why it is the lowest point. And that is why it was the highest point.

“Running onto the field that day. The energy there was in the stadium. How do you ever get those highs again? Can you ever get a high like that again?”

You might think he’s saying all this with a sombre, wistful shake of the head. Instead it’s with one big smile. Days like that one in Killarney, now that was living. Sixteen seasons playing in green, now that was a privilege.

So, instead of looking at all he didn’t win, he looks at all he gained. The friendships, the memories. While by nature he’s a restless spirit, he’s oddly at peace. With his decision to finally walk away from county football. And with the fact that provincial medal that he so valiantly strove for remained elusive.

As someone who has played some form of national team or national league basketball for almost as long as he’s been playing inter-county football, he appreciates the wisdom of that master hoops coach John Wooden.

Truly, it’s who you become in pursuing the goal, not attaining it. Success isn’t silverware; it’s peace of mind knowing you gave it your best to be your best.

“As far back as I remember, there wasn’t a year that I thought we didn’t have a good shot at winning the Munster title that upcoming season. Every year I believed this could be the year, that we had the players to do it. That’s what drove me. I’m shocked that we didn’t win one.

“But no, it doesn’t gnaw at me or keep me up at night. It does disappoint me but I do have that peace of mind. I know I gave it everything. It just didn’t work out for me. But I can’t complain. I had a good career, as good as a Limerick footballer could. I went 12 years without a serious injury. There’s a lot to be thankful for.”

Why did they fall short? Though they wore green they could have done with a rub of it. In the 2004 Munster final they drew with Kerry in Limerick, Darragh Ó Sé’s fingertips denying an Eoin Keating ‘45’ from going over the bar and a county going into ecstasy. In the replay, Limerick would storm into a seven-point lead only for Kerry to come back into the game through an Eoin Brosnan goal and a penalty that never was.

In 2009, Limerick should have beaten Cork in the Munster final instead of losing by a point. While Galvin won’t mention it, again it swung on a dubious penalty for the traditional power.

This writer and others would have a theory that subconsciously, referees had certain beliefs, such as that Limerick weren’t meant to be a couple of goals ahead of a Kerry or Cork. Galvin himself, though, has the theory that mentally Limerick themselves had limiting beliefs.

“It definitely wasn’t lack of work. It definitely was mental. In 2010, we scored 1-4 in 10 minutes.

Then we never scored again. I’ll never understand that. I think players went back into their shell. I’ve never watched the game back but something definitely happened. When we were seven points down, our mindset was we might as well go for it.

But when we got level, it was almost like; ‘Jesus, we’re here now, we’ve got a chance, we better sit back a bit now.’” There was no doubting or mistaking Kerry’s belief. It wasn’t even a confidence, more a cockiness, that they exuded in everything.

“Even when we were on top of them, I don’t think they ever believed they were going to lose to us. They weren’t going to be fazed by it. The only time I saw them rattled against us was the 2004 replay in Killarney.

We went five, six, seven points up and it was the first time I thought we had them broken because it was the first time I saw them cursing and blaming one another. But then Eoin Brosnan came through for a goal and that settled them.”

Looking back, that was a fine Limerick team they brought to Killarney that day. The 2010 team were better footballers but, in Galvin’s view, the 2004 side were greater warriors. Or as Galvin puts it with a smile, they were “dementedly driven”.

A lot of that stemmed from their manager. When Liam Kearns took over, he inherited a senior side that might have had only eight or nine training but also a group of youngsters such as Galvin that had beaten Cork in the 1998 Munster minor championship.

In 2000, they would reach the U21 All-Ireland final. By 2003, they were beating Cork in Cork by 10 points in the senior championship. He made them believe because he made them work. He made them work because he made them run.

“We could do two hours of a running session. It was laps and sprints and just when you thought you were finished on the pitch he’d take you to a hill and have you run up and down it for another half-hour. Nowadays, people would be shocked.

Everything is done with stopwatches and is so scientific. But it was those sessions with Liam that bonded that team together. He really tried to break us down but he couldn’t. Fellas were pushing other lads up the hill so he wouldn’t break us. I’d have no problem if there was a bit more of that today.”

He’s been following the burnout debate. Last Sunday he was on Radio One with Joe Brolly giving another lecture to the nation.

Galvin does accept some of the barrister’s case. Players should be able to have a drink after a couple of league games without incurring the wrath of their management or the public. Players might be togging out one night too many a week.

Back when Donie Buckley was coaching the team five years ago, the side would have a football session for maybe 75 minutes before he’d bring out some sandbags to get their strength work in there; no need to go to the gym the next night and pack the gear bag again.

Maybe Donie’s a little old-school and Galvin is too but Galvin would stop short of seeking a return to an era Brolly recalls and romanticises. Back in the 90s, Limerick footballers might have had careers but they didn’t have football careers.

They might have only eight or nine at training, not 38 or 39 as they had under Kearns. In his time, Gavin felt no slave. He had a life. And the game enhanced it.

“I’d have no idea where I’d be today or who I’d be today if I didn’t play county football,” he again beams.

“Like, I feel now I could talk to anyone or the wall. I wouldn’t have been naturally sociable or confident but that came from football. All the friends I made from it, the confidence it gave me. I’d like to think I’m a decent fella and football had a part to play in that.”

Truth is, The Sunday Game boys have always been ‘catastrophising’ a tad. Pat Spillane was concerned 25 years ago that no farmer was on the Kerry football panel because of the commitments both involved.

Galvin is a farmer and played for 16 years, more than any other footballer who played in last year’s championship. If anything, the job proved a help not a hindrance to his football.

“I found that it was better for my recovery to be working on a farm the day after a game because I’d be moving all the time. By the afternoon, I’d have loosened up while the lad sitting in an office is tightening up.

"The only thing was the hours here would be longer. At times I’d be heading into training thinking ‘I don’t have the energy for this!’ But I’d always have some gels or caffeine sachets in the car and whether it was placebo or not, taking one of those would always do the trick for me.”

He could only go on for so long though. He turned 34 last year. He did his cruciate in 2011 and again in 2013. He met team manager John Brudair before Christmas and Brudair was more than willing to offer him flexibility; if he could only train so often or start so late, that would be fine.

Galvin knew though that he was already pushing it.

“After 2010 I took it year by year. After the cruciates, I wanted to know for myself that my knee was alright for later life, whether it was playing basketball or indoor soccer that I could play away.

“I was very disappointed with 2014 on a personal level. I was nowhere near where I was in 2010. Not even 50 percent. It was hard to take. A younger guy, 21, 22, could be soloing the ball and you’d be chasing him and not gaining any ground on him.

"Before, I’d have caught up with him; Stephen Kelly would have been one of the few in the country that I wouldn’t have. I just lost my speed and speed of turn. The two cruciates definitely affected it. And age. Age just gets the better of you.”

SINCE announcing the decision 10 days ago, he’s felt a weight off his shoulders; for sure it was the right call. He was moved by all the plaudits and well-wishes.

He’s not on Twitter himself but he heard about what Tomás Ó Sé put out there: ‘John Galvin has strong links in Kerry. The one player outside of Kerry I would love to have been from Kerry.’

All his time playing the old enemy, Galvin doubted Kerry footballers respected any Limerick footballer. It was nice to hear at least one Kerry player did.

He’ll be fine without the game. For one, he’ll still be playing a bit of it. He now lives in Cratloe, in the nearest house to the local pitch, and last year fell in with Colm and Podge Collins and co to win the Clare county championship.

He’s still playing some basketball, though only local league with the Limerick Celtics, having finished up with Castleisland last spring. He plays a bit of squash. A few friends are talking about doing some leg of a triathlon involving kayaking.

He and his wife Liane are building a new house. And there’s always the parents’ farm that he works on back home near Croom. There’s no fear of him wondering what to do with his time.

“Liane says the reason I never have problems and always seem happy is because I’m always on the go. I never have time to stop and think.”

Inevitably, there will be times when he will. Even in recent years he was already a member of an ‘Old or Retired Limerick Footballers’ WhatsApp group.

Just there at Christmas he met up for a meal and a few drinks with the likes of Stephen Lavin, Jim O’Donovan, Pa Ranahan and Stephen Lucey, his old Croom clubmate who has signed up for a 16th season. Naturally, they talked a little about the old times.

And some day Gavin expects to talk about them and show them to someone much younger. Though he has never watched any of those Munster finals back, he plans to track them down – RTÉ or Marty might be able to help him out – then sit down. Not to agonise about the run never made or the score never taken. Not that at all.

“You know when you say: ‘My father done that?’ Well, I’d like it to be there down the line for my kids.”

That he did that. That he was there. That even when he’s dead that they can see that he was once so alive.

John Galvin: On ...

The direct opponents he respected most.

“I always enjoyed playing Nicholas Murphy and Darragh Ó Sé but if I was to pick one player where I thought ‘God, I have to go out and play him today, he’s going to do my nut’, it would be Ger Quinlan from Clare.

He reminded me a bit of John Quane. Strong. Old school. Just a tough f***er.”

Fielding and the mark

“I’d be disappointed that kickouts have gone the way they have. Even watching a game on telly, seeing a fella leaping into the air and catching it looks fantastic. That’s what people want to see.

In the early 2000s, you always knew whoever you were playing against that the first objective for all of us was to try to outfield the other. Now it’s more or less just break the ball.

“They brought in a mark (for the 2010 league) but made a right bags of it. They blew the whistle and the ball had to be kicked from that spot. I remember in one game my man was in front of me, the ball went over his head, I caught it and turned to go and the referee blew.

There was 40 yards of space in front of me but I had to come back to where I had caught it.

They should definitely bring in a mark from a kickout, only do it like in Aussie Rules and let you have the option of playing on.”

Limerick football’s future

“There are still good players there. Some terrific forwards in Ian Ryan and Ger Collins. The physicality might not be there compared to previous teams but that’s inevitable when you go with younger fellas.

There’s definitely still a pride in the jersey and a desire to get Limerick back to where we were. But, to be honest, there’s not enough players coming through.

The likes of Paul Kinnerk, Conor Fitzgerald, Stephen Lavin and Diarmuid Sheehy have started taking underage teams from U14 on but it’s going to be a few years before we see the fruits.

It’s a pity it wasn’t done 10 years ago. I think Tipp are at the stage where we once were in that they’ve put in the work underage and are about to really trouble Kerry and Cork.

I just hope Limerick can stay competitive so there’s something to build on when players start coming through.”

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