TO SOME, the term, "Kerry forward Paul Galvin" is a contradiction, an oxymoron. The wing-forward is no Mikey Sheehy or Maurice Fitzgerald, but he may prove just as important this season in providing a platform for progress.
Sheehy had Tommy Doyle and Ogie Moran to hit, harangue and hassle. Even in 1997, Maurice had Pa Laide, Denis O'Dwyer and the still-performing Liam Hassett to toil and trouble anything in sight.
The 2002 All-Ireland defeat still itches in Kerry, because Championships don't come calling as often to the Kingdom these days. They lost to Armagh not only because they had no finisher, but for the want of someone up front to answer Kieran McGeeney back.
Ditto last August when Galvin was on the bench as Tyrone trampled indelicately again on the Kingdom's bruised reputation.
"You don't want to see great men like Séamus (Moynihan), Darragh (Ó Sé) and Declan O'Keeffe, belittled in Croke Park. We were railroaded. It hurt, you'd love to go in there and help them out. For a Kerryman in Croke Park, that was not a nice experience."
Thus, with a new management and a fresh pragmatism, coach Jack O'Connor elevated Galvin to a starting berth this season. If occasional watchers only remember him for the controversial flare-up at the end of the League victory over Cork in March, that's because the blue-collar half-forward has been mainly doing what he's appointed to do making others look good.
"I won't be kicking over any points from the corner flag," he concedes. "I have to do the dirty stuff, but it's necessary the way the game has gone. Teams need at least one forward who can do those things tackle, pick up the breaks and turn over ball."
While rose-coloured recollections of past Kerry forward lines like to linger on the joys of Spillane, Egan and Brendan Lynch, successful Kingdom campaigns usually featured a share of unsung heroes.
Galvin is more than willing to be the latest incarnation. "We have been working on our turnover count this season, trying to up it. A lot of it is hunger if you see a breaking ball, you hit the deck, get a belt, but you must ship the ball off.
"(Eamonn) Fitzmaurice often says that you can leave a ball bounce and say 'it bounced past me, it wasn't for me.' Or you can make it yours. I enjoy diving on the breaking ball, the tackling. I nearly get as big a buzz turning over a ball or getting a guy caught for over-carrying than I do scoring." Not that Galvin believes he shouldn't improve his scoring ratio. But having spent a period as wing-back (under selector Johnny Culloty with the Kerry U21s), he recognises the similarities and the differences in the roles. And what makes one work against the other.
"As a half-back, one thing you don't like is being carried around the field, taken to areas that you're not comfortable in. As a wing-back, I hated tracking someone going around the place. A half forward's role now is very defensive. I spent the League final defending (Galway's) Declan Meehan, not because I wanted to, but because he's a major attacking force for them Philip Jordan, Séamus Moynihan, and Martin Cronin are the same."
Galvin speaks frequently and eloquently on "belonging" to Gaelic football's upper echelons, and there is a sense that he has not arrived yet, indeed, he may not even start on Sunday. Wearing the green and gold at senior level is not enough. "I don't see myself as a Kerry senior. If you haven't an All-Ireland medal in Kerry, you're not a senior. For the moment, I've got a jersey, and I say 'I want to hold onto this.' I'm playing alongside superb players with All-Irelands. Getting their respect is the first thing, and if we can win an All-Ireland, then I'll consider myself a senior."
What Galvin doesn't consider himself is a blackguard, though he has quickly attained a reputation as a footballer not afraid to put himself about. For what it's worth, my experience of watching him has been that he's the type of player you'd prefer to have on your side. And maybe, though few would admit it, he's providing something that Kerry has been short of in recent seasons. Did people consider Liam O'Flaherty a blackguard? "I wouldn't ever hold back on the field," he accepts. "But I don't want to sound as if I'm some tough case. I'd hate to have a reputation as being a blackguard. I'm 5'11," and I'm up against guys who are 6'3." Yes, I upset guys with the way I play, I'll fight my corner and play ball that's the way I have always been."
The step up to inter-county football is one Galvin has been waiting for, but finds exhausting in every sense. "The League final was an eye opener for me. It took me three hours afterwards to recover, I couldn't rise my head. It's not as if you wake up Sunday morning and say 'I have a game today.' The week literally starts on Monday for me. But the whole Croke Park thing, marking Meehan, being completely focused on the job in hand my mates were wondering what was wrong with me that night after we'd won."
Galvin played minor and U21 with Kerry, but ahead of Sunday's provincial semi-final with Cork, is still picking up pointers from colleagues. He finds himself vying for the role of wing man with Liam Hassett, a player he has come to admire on and off the field. Indeed, he is articulate enough to provide the ideal 'inside the camp' profiles so beloved on FA Cup final day. A taster. "Colm Cooper, for a 19-year-old, is incredible. What sets him apart is his composure he plays in Croke Park like he's in the back garden. He's so agile, great hands, great balance.
"The well known players speak for themselves but few see the real Mike McCarthy he could play anywhere, and be comfortable with or against the ball. Fitzmaurice is underrated and brings a lot of presence to our side. Mentally, he's very tough, he's a born winner."
Galvin and Fitzmaurice play their club football with Finuge, and hurl with Lixnaw. Both are good enough to represent the county in the latter code, and Galvin intends doing it some day.
That can wait. Cork await. Having just finished for the summer at Críost Rí, Galvin is aware of the sense of expectation in the city with Billy Morgan at the helm. But there's a new wind blowing in Kerry, too.
"People say things are very different this year, but aren't they always with a new voice? The new lads coming in haven't had to compare. I'd say if anything it's given the senior lads a new edge. It's more a factor for them."
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