Ensuring Galway remain Super

You can blame Malcolm McDonald.

When the prolific centre-forward was knocking in goals for fun for Newcastle United, his exploits were echoed on an obscure field in Westmeath, where a youngster collected the nickname that adorns every main street in Ireland.

Pat McDonagh grew up playing hurling in east Galway but went away for his schooling and picked up a different set of skills.

“When I went to the boarding school at Carmelite College Moate, I got into playing football. That’s where I got the ‘Supermac’ nickname, after Malcolm McDonald. I got a few goals in one game and one of the lads on the sideline hung the name on me.”

McDonagh’s first love was hurling, though. He doesn’t need much time to establish his bona fides with the small ball: a roll call of the neighbours’ children suffices.

“Tony Keady and Eanna Ryan are from my parish, Joe Cooney and the McGraths from the next parish, Eugene Cloonan and Joe Rabbitte nearby, Greg Kennedy is a nephew of my wife’s. There were connections.”

Supermacs sponsored local teams “for a long time”, says McDonagh, and eventually the call-up to senior inter-county level arrived.

“We were delighted to sponsor the county team when the opportunity arose.

“I’d have known a lot of the players personally, the management — it was a natural fit and a good marriage for both sides.

“I’d hope we brought something to them as much as they brought something to us, as a good sponsorship deal should. To win or achieve success in anything, you must have everybody rowing in together, and everybody must bring something to the party.

“It’s not just the team and management, it’s the county board, supporters, sponsors — the whole amalgamation, involving everyone.”

The pay-off earlier this year was the Leinster final. Galway went into that game with Kilkenny on the back of a relegation play-off with Dublin as well as some porous defensive displays in the Leinster championship.

The subsequent demolition of the Cats surprised the main sponsor as much as anyone.

“That was an amazing game,” says McDonagh. “Nobody could have foreseen what happened there and Galway put down a marker. I’d say Kilkenny were caught unawares that day to a certain extent, something which isn’t likely to happen the next day. The semi-final with Cork was a totally different game.”

Galway held Cork off in the following game, which was at issue until late on. McDonagh points to the tactical difference: “It was tit for tat down to the last few minutes, almost. Both teams looked nervous starting off and it was an unusual game, if you like, in the way the ball was going from half-back line to half-back line at times.

“From a Galway perspective, it was important to get that win — in the Leinster final there was little expected of the team but against Cork it was the opposite, because Cork are a coming team. There were higher expectations of Galway in that game so to come through, it was very satisfactory.”

As you roll through Galway there’s no shortage of maroon and white flags and bunting. McDonagh feels there’s a reality in the west, though.

“The expectancy is great now in Galway — getting to an All-Ireland final is a huge achievement — but people aren’t getting ahead of themselves. Kilkenny are likely to be hot favourites, and rightly so, given their record

“But it’ll be a very interesting game — the first 10 minutes of both halves could be where it’s won or lost. I’m expecting a tight game, with very little in it, and I don’t expect it to be like the Leinster final at all.”

For McDonagh, there’s likely to be a special frisson come Sunday. After all, it’s not every day you see the name of your business on your own county jerseys, sprinting across the field on All-Ireland final day.

“It’s a great honour to see the Galway jersey with Supermacs on it. That’s first of all. You can be a bit emotionally attached to it because it’s the biggest GAA occasion in the year, and I know a lot of the lads, I know the huge amount of work they’ve put in over the years, not just this year.

“I’d be thinking of the likes of Damien Hayes, who has given 10 years to Galway and the Leinster championship final saw him win his first senior inter-county medal. I know he’s won club honours, obviously, but he’s given a decade of his life to Galway and only got a reward this year, really.

“When you see the effort the lads put in over the years, not just this season, and you add in the fact that they’re representing their parishes, their families — and others who didn’t win All-Ireland medals with Galway, fellas like Ollie Canning and Joe Rabbitte who were heroes for Galway... it’s a big honour but they deserve it.

“They’ve been well trained, the management team is excellent and I’m sure they’re looking forward to getting out there the day of the final. I know I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

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