Cool Bergin all set to go again

IT was with more than a sceptical eye that Joe Bergin saw Galway’s relegation from Allianz Division One almost swept under the carpet after the U21s’ All-Ireland win last month.

After losing five games on the trot before staging a battling but unsuccessful finish to the spring campaign, the U21s’ success was termed the rising tide that would float all boats.

Bergin hopes so but experience has taught him to disbelieve. Nine years ago, he was the captain of a star-studded Galway U21 team that beat Dublin in an All-Ireland decider in Portlaoise.

That glory was enough to convince John O’Mahony to stay on but little has been earned at senior level from it

Since 2002, the seniors’ haul has been modest, three Connacht titles and just as many All-Ireland quarter-finals which they’ve all lost.

Bergin admitted: “You look at that team, and you say there were a lot of those guys that will step up to senior standard. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. It’s hard to put your finger on it. That’s just the way it goes, and it’s a lesson for Galway people, that U21 doesn’t guarantee senior success.”

That’s a message he doesn’t think he’ll need to pass to the three victorious U21s who line out as SFC debutants with him tomorrow — last month’s captain Colin Forde, Mark Hehir and Johnny Duane. They know what’s in store and Bergin is buoyed by the amount of young blood coming into the panel. It’s just he knows they will need time to adjust to the next step.

“It’s been brilliant having them in. We’ve brought in 12 or 13 and they have freshened it up big time. A lot of them may not make it for another year or two, and some lads will make it very quickly. But it has been a big positive. But I don’t think it (expectation) is (unrealistic).

“Galway supporters realise this is a work in progress and they’ll probably come to the fore in the next couple of years. But I don’t think the Galway public expect instant success.”

If that’s the case why is Bergin sticking around? What’s in it for him? “You’d be lost without it,” he admits. “I know no other life than football. I’m as excited now, going into the Mayo game, as I would have been back when I played Mayo first, in 2002, because we didn’t play them for the first two years that I was involved. There is still a great buzz when it comes around to championship.

“A year or so ago I didn’t know how long more I would be playing, given the Achilles tendon and the cruciate. But the way my body feels, I’m not thinking that way.

“You’re taking it day by day and year by year and see how it goes, but I’m enjoying my football as much as ever.”

Having said that, he finds himself questioning more and more about putting himself through the ringer. But there’s almost an obligation to ensure Galway don’t lose too many experienced heads like they have done before.

The possibility he may be a part of the beginning of something special also appeals.

“We lost a lot of the core 1998-2001 team. You were losing Derek Savage, Sean Óg de Paor, Ja Fallon, Kevin Walsh, Tomás Mannion, and they are hard to replace.

“A lot of them went in a year or two-year period. Trying to replace those guys is never easy, and maybe that had a bearing on it. But it’s very hard to know.

“The important thing now is that a team like this is a new chapter for Galway football. That’s the way we see it.

“We have new management with Tomás (Ó Flatharta) and the guys, and we’re not looking to the past. We’re looking to Sunday and putting in a sterling performance.”

Bergin hasn’t been as badly affected by injury this season as he has been in recent ones, where the wear and tear of appearing in the Galway first team since he was an 18-year-old looked to have caught up on him. He says he’s minding the body better, easing off when “things are starting to get a bit hectic” but the game he started back in 2000 won’t be the one he eventually finishes.

“Everything is monitored and everything is managed to the nth degree. That is a big difference. The attention to detail is huge now, and sometimes you’d wonder is it OTT.

“We won All-Irelands with John O’Mahony and there was a lot of running around the pitch and 150s and 200s.”

In the 11 weeks since they finished the league campaign, Ó Flatharta has drummed into them the ways of operating a considerable defensive system. Tough? Now you said it. But Bergin hasn’t had it any other way since 2002.

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