It’s less than two years since Galway’s beef with the ostracisation of their underage teams from Leinster’s minor and U21 grades morphed into the suggestion that the county should think about hopping over another fence and into Munster’s field instead.
The idea emanated from the Liam Mellows club at the 2016 county convention and, if that was the nuclear option, then there were further grounds for going to war over what amounted to their second-class citizenship in the east. By that stage, Galway’s hurlers had played 23 championship games on the spin without a single home fixture.
Sense eventually prevailed. Mostly.
Galway played two games in Salthill in this year’s Leinster senior championship, their U21s are the province’s reigning champions and the minors — fudge alert! — have been tossed a bone in the form of a round robin series involving the two provincial beaten finalists.
Still, no-one is making the case for a new address down south anymore. Truth be told, Galway aren’t far off buying a summer residence in Munster anyway given the frequency of the senior side’s trips to Tipp.
Sunday’s replayed All-Ireland semi-final will be their ninth outing in Tom Semple’s ‘Good Field’ in 10 years.
Two of them have taken the form of appointments with Clare — 2013 and 2016 — but the first ever meeting between the counties on Tipperary soil was played out back in 1961, in Nenagh’s McDonagh Park, when Galway were in the third of a 12-season stint spent in the Munster Championship.
The win claimed that day was the one time the Tribesmen avoided defeat.
Galway and Clare had met in a challenge match in Kiltormer just a fortnight before — this was a very different time – but the fare on the big day didn’t set any pulses racing. “There can rarely have been a more disappointing second half to any game than that at Nenagh yesterday,” was the verdict in the Cork Examiner.
The winning margin was 12 points but the tie was poor enough for the same reporter to wonder whether the “standard of hurling has collapsed”. It’s unlikely his fears would have been assuaged a month later when Tipperary put seven goals and 12 points past the westerners in the provincial final.
Three belated goals for a J Óg Gillane, a substitute and clerical student from Gort, served only to squeeze the losing margin to 12 points. It was a day all too typical of the frustrations and defeats Galway suffered during their temporary housing in the province’s senior hurling championship.
Opinion on the merit of hitching their carriage to Munster had been divided.
A request from Galway to instigate new structures and end their isolation had been knocked back at Congress in 1958 before the Munster Council extended the hand of friendship some months later. A tentative framework was agreed at a private meeting in Limerick in January of 1959.
An initial three-year stay was fleshed out but it needed the green light from the Galway convention, the Munster and Connacht councils and GAA Congress. The last was straightforward with 240 delegates consenting at Dublin’s Gresham Hotel and just one in opposition.
There was some vocal opposition at the county’s own convention at the New Inn Cinema some months earlier with a Mr M O’Higgins claimed it was “throwing up the flag of despair”. Bertie Kelly of Loughrea spoke in favour on the basis that Galway had lost so many games in the past by slim margins due to what he believed to be lack of match practice.
And Kelly had seen every Galway championship game since 1924.
One delegate went so far as to describe the move as “the remedy for Galway hurling” but it is the insight of Frank Sheehy, the outgoing Munster chair, that stands the test of time.
“No-one … will for one moment believe that the invitation is a charm that can halt the decline in hurling, or restore it in the areas where it has died or never existed,” he said.
There were kinks to be ironed out before Galway could move in.
Some pointed out that the switch would mean the loss of an All-Ireland semi-final and, with it, the disappearance of roughly £5,000 from the GAA’s coffers.
Others feared for what the move would do for hurling in Roscommon. More again pondered on what it meant for Galway players and teams and their eligibility for Railway Cup duties.
By 1969, any appetite to continue the experiment had been lost. At Congress the following year, Galway hurling chairman Gerry Cloherty made the case for what was in effect a return to the wilderness. There wasn’t one dissenting voice and Galway would spend the next 27 years, until the advent of the back door, traversing the country for championship exposure.
They played in Athlone, Athleague, and Athenry. In Ballinasloe, Birr, and Ballycastle. Carlow, too, facing the likes of Antrim, New York, and London in makey-uppy quarter-finals. Galway didn’t venture south again until Kerry were beaten in Limerick in ’76 and then faced Wexford twice in Páirc Uí Chaoimh the same summer.
Visits continued to be few and far between after that. Offaly had their number in Thurles in ’84 and they met Kerry in Ennis two years later before destroying Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final at Semple Stadium. Their last three visits to Thurles have produced wins, too. Could it be that Galway finally feel at home in Munster?
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