Galway making up for lost time

OVER 50 years after they came close to affiliating with the province, the Galway hurlers make their debut in the Leinster hurling championship on Sunday, when they play Laois in O’Moore Park.

Galway applied for permission to play in Leinster in 1957. However, on the day of Congress they withdrew their application, ‘piqued’ by objections from within the province.

Former great Sean Duggan (popularly known as Seanín) who played inter-county from minor upwards over the period 1939-54, looks back on the episode with a degree of regret.

“Some of the counties didn’t want us in – and they got their way,” he recalled. “It would have been a big asset to us down the years, plus the fact that we would have received grants back from the Leinster Council.”

Instead, Galway found themselves going into Munster in 1959 one year after a Kildare motion to Congress to introduce an open draw for the championship almost succeeded. Their southern adventure lasted a decade and it saw the county compete in all of the championships – including U21, which was introduced in 1964.

Honoured in Galway recently by the City Council when a building was named after him and receiving an honorary degree from NUIG along with his brother Jimmy, Duggan claimed he would have preferred to see the county extend their involvement.

“I was out of the inter-county at that time, but I and other men who played (with Galway) and were officials of clubs were all in favour of going into Munster. I was disappointed when we came out because what we needed was championship hurling to improve our skills. One match every year wasn’t suitable. We had top-class hurlers and we would have gone places by learning more about the game.

“I am delighted we are in Leinster and I hope we stay there, but I won’t be happy until I see the minor hurlers and the junior hurlers and U21 in the championship.”

County Secretary Bernie O’Connor (who joined the senior squad in 1964 and had a taste of Munster championship hurling on a few occasions), wasn’t in favour of affiliating to the Leinster championship. “It wasn’t a great experience for Galway – not a very successful experience anyway,” he commented. “You got one chance every year. Nobody really worried that you lost that match; you came back the following year!” He never accepted the argument it would benefit Galway to play in the Leinster championship this time, saying that his preferred option would have been for the teams beaten in the first round games in Munster and Leinster to join Galway in an expanded Connacht championship.

“I felt we would have been better off that way and it would promote hurling in the province. Of course it’s history now, after being carried (at Congress) by a small vote. Some people would have been promoting the idea that when Galway weren’t getting matches they couldn’t win very much, but I didn’t agree with that view. you make your team on the training ground and you improve with matches.

“The bottom line is we’re still playing Laois – even though we are in Leinster. We could be playing Kilkenny in the next round, it doesn’t give us any extra game, does it? No reflection on Laois, but it will be our fifth year in a row playing them and it certainly isn’t promoting hurling in Laois because of the drubbings they got from us (twice by a 20-point margin).”

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