The Galway U21 team that goes into action tonight in Semple Stadium largely fit the prototype of their underage hurlers, schooled in the strongholds dotted around the parishes in the south and east of the county.
Yet the man that will captain them has followed a different path. Daly may now be affiliated with the Clarinbridge club yet he was introduced to the game in Kildare. It was in Naas that his hurling skills were nurtured and neither the lack of hurling tradition or lowly national status have proved impediments to his development.
“I grew up in Sallins but played all my hurling in Naas which is nearby. There are only a couple of teams in Kildare that would be strong at the hurling and Naas would be one of them. That’s where I got my hurling background. There was great coaches in the club, lads like Don McSweeney who is from Cork. That’s where I picked it all up.”
In September 2006, a change in his father’s employment saw the Daly family pack their bags and head west. They settled in the village of Clarinbridge, just south of Galway city, and hurling provided a natural gateway into the local community for Barry. There was a spell on the sidelines waiting for the ink on his transfer papers from Naas to dry but once everything was processed, he threw himself into the hurling.
“The parents had always liked Clarinbridge as a place to live. They had bought a site there years ago and just built a house. I started hurling straight away with Clarinbridge. The pace of the game was the biggest challenge really for me. Everything was done so much faster and you’d no time on the ball. Thankfully I had the basic skills, I just needed to up the pace of my game. It took a year to get going. But thankfully it happened for me.”
With a father from Cork and mother from Roscommon, it is natural to be inquisitive as to where Daly’s county loyalties lie.
“Ah I’d still be from Kildare really,” he laughs. “I’d support them in the football, they’re doing well at the moment. I’d know a few of the Naas lads who are up and coming with Kildare underage teams. I played football with Sallins growing up and then the hurling with Naas. There’s no Sallins lads on the Kildare panel but a few of the Naas lads will be on the way up with Kildare over the next few years.”
Now his focus is on furthering Galway hurling. The county has been good to him since his move. In his last year as a minor in 2008, he managed to secure a spot on the Galway panel that reached the All-Ireland final but did not see game time during their Croke Park defeat to Kilkenny.
That represented the start of his progress though. The following year he was on the pitch with the Galway U21s in Thurles on the day that Joe Canning blitzed the Clare defence for 4-7 but was unable to prevent defeat. His breakthrough came the following spring, impressing with a series of dynamic midfield displays as NUI Galway swept away three decades of heartache and landed the Fitzgibbon Cup title.
“The Fitzgibbon was a huge help to me. Vincent Mullins and Michael Ryan gave me a big chance with NUIG. I played midfield and thankfully we won the competition. It was a big help and it gave me great recognition. I was able to show people that I was able to hurl.”
Since then he has established himself at senior ranks, making his championship debut for John McIntyre’s side against Westmeath back in June. Their senior ambitions may have collapsed at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage but the U21 grade provided refuge for Daly. After a wonderful year, which saw him star at midfield as Clarinbridge lifted the All-Ireland club crown back in March, lifting the Cross of Cashel tonight would be a fitting denouement.
To do that, Galway must exorcise the demons of last September’s U21 reversal against Tipperary. That game was a scarring experience as they crashed to a 25-point defeat. On a night when the Tipperary hurling fraternity acclaimed another bunch of heroes, Galway were the bystanders.
“It was like a party that we weren’t invited to,” recalls Daly. “I remember it was a great atmosphere at that match and there was a great buzz when you went onto the pitch. It was just that we weren’t welcome, really. There were 25,000 Tipperary people and only a couple of hundred Galway people.
“We weren’t overawed or anything about it. We were confident enough going in. It was just once they got the early goal, the crowd got behind them and they pushed on. Things didn’t click for us. We knew we were in with a chance at half-time but we came out in the second half and they crushed us.”
Tonight they hope to make amends. This time there has been no venue controversy hanging over their camp and Daly, who recently wrapped up his Commerce studies in NUI Galway, is pleased with their preparations.
The semi-final triumph over Limerick demonstrated their capabilities.
Victory now tonight and his maroon future will look even brighter.