Goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle and midfielder Michael Day made their senior bows with Galway, completing a journey which began on the small island of Inishbofin, a place which doesn’t even have enough numbers to have their own club.
The island, whose permanent population fluctuates between about 150-170 depending on work and studies, is located off the north Galway coast.
But there were big celebrations on the island on Sunday when the two players, both of whom played underage for Galway, became the first from the island to play senior inter-county football when they lined out for the Tribesmen in their 0-13 to 0-10 win over Sligo in the FBD League at Enniscrone.
A small contingent from the island, led by Ruairi’s father Henry Kenny, travelled from the island for the game, starting out early on Sunday morning with a 35-minute boat trip to Cleggan and then a car journey of almost three hours to the coastal Sligo venue. Other islanders travelled from the mainland for the occasion.
“It’s an historic occasion, a great day for the island and for the lads themselves. They have worked very hard to get this far so it’s great to get to see them play,” said Kenny.
Galway manager Kevin Walsh also paid tribute to the two 22-year old islanders, both of whom played well in the victory.
“Some lads have to work that bit harder to make it, some have to deal with obstacles which others don’t encounter so fair play to them, they are here on merit. We have tried to cast the net as wide as possible. It’s what football and the GAA is all about. Hopefully, the two lads and all the other new players push on from here,” said Walsh.
Michael Day moved to the mainland when he was younger and Lavelle, an accomplished soccer player, also moved for study but they are back on the island at every opportunity and are very proud of their heritage.
Day plays his club football with Headford, while Lavelle joined the nearest GAA club to Inishbofin, the Renville club in west Connemara who play in the junior championship.
“I’m just delighted to get the start,” said Lavelle. “We’ve been training hard now over the last couple of months. We’ve put the work in and I was just happy out to get the call and we’ll build from here. Kevin is trying to give everyone a chance. We’re glad we got our chance. We took it and we did well enough and we’ll build on this.”
Day said that Lavelle and himself have played together up through the grades and that it was superb to make their senior debut together.
“The two of us played minor and we played two years at U21 with Galway. He played with St Mary’s in school and I played in Headford. Lucky enough we kind of kept it going.
“We were on similar teams, we’re the same age, so it was brilliant for the two of us just coming through. We were two good mates growing up and it just made it different to transition through from minor to U21 and now to senior and hopefully things will keep coming from it.”
He admitted: “It’s brilliant day for the island. There are a lot of people proud of us at home and that makes it much easier as well when we’re getting that support from home. It drives you on.
“To be saying that there are two lads from an island of 150 people, it’s a great achievement from the two of us and we’re delighted to wear that badge of the island.”