The 1980 All-Ireland-winning captain was milling about the CityWest Hotel yesterday morning when asked for his thoughts on Sunday’s All-Ireland double. He was happy to oblige, knowing full well the interview requests will become less and less frequent now that Galway’s celebrated men of the 80s have seen the baton – at long, long last - passed on.
Last Wednesday evening, Connolly, along with Noel Lane, Cyril Farrell, Conor Hayes, and Pete Finnerty, made up the panel for a Galway Bay FM preview show in Loughrea. These former stars, he tells us, are fed up of being the spokesmen for Galway hurling, with Connolly revealing a deep frustration that the county “sleep-walked” through the last 29 years.
During that period, there were 10 All-Ireland minor wins, that’s including Sunday, six U21s and 12 All-Ireland club titles, with the most glaring stat of all being the six senior final defeats and a continued failure to back up years of underage dominance. The constant knocking of Galway’s mental fortitude gnawed away at the Castlegar native “Ah, 1993, 2001, ’05, ’12, ’15, it’s embarrassing like,” Connolly begins.
“Your heart is in your county, your pride is in your county and what pundits have said about us over the years, for our lack of manliness to be questioned is demeaning.
“Whatever about our ability, it absolutely grates me that people question that you pull this maroon jersey down over your head and that you’re not at a mental state like the big counties. That’s what bugs more than anything and I hope to God that after Sunday’s performance, 11 games in-a-row of success, there might be a new breed of Galway hurler coming through.
“We won the minor against the odds. We’ve won the senior, maybe, against the odds. Our U21s, even, put up a superb performance against Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final. There might be winds of change blowing in Galway hurling and a new kind of hurler coming through.”
David Burke, so went the chatter around the CityWest, is believed to have told his team-mates at half-time that there was absolutely no way they could return to the dressing room empty handed. The county could not endure or, indeed, afford another September tale of woe. The detractors had to be answered.
“It’s our own fault in Galway, like, we have sat back and taken [the criticism],” Connolly continued.
“We have sleep-walked through about 30 years. We haven’t been at the races as regards preparation and whatever like that. We had to make a statement. We as past players would so gladly hand the laurels back to these. We don’t want to be at the fore of talk about Galway hurling. It’s for new generations to take over the mantle.
“It hurt greatly for the last decades to see the failures and good lads, the four players that we picked from for our full-back line during the three years (2009-11) I was involved were Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, Fergal Moore, and Ollie Canning. I mentioned there the three years (2009-11) I was with the Galway team, our full-back line, the four that we picked from were; Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, Fergal Moore and Ollie Canning. You couldn’t find finer men and it upsets me that their ilk and the others, for the last 30 years that have finished their careers, did so without winning an All-Ireland.”
hy did it take until Sunday, then, for the famine to be ended?
“Well, we haven’t been ambitious enough. We haven’t been hungry enough in Galway. We’re a rich county, there’s plenty of employment in Galway, there are two third-level institutions. We have superb structures in clubs. We have a quarter of a million of a population. We shouldn’t be picking up All-Irelands every 30 years and the reason we haven’t is that it’s our own fault. If our standard going forward, in both hurling and football, is excellence, then that’s what we need to have. We were long enough just happy with being middle and when you’re that way there isn’t a hope.”
Reflecting on the county’s all-conquering year, Connolly credits manager Micheál Donoghue with bringing a mental toughness to the set-up. A line of consistency can be drawn through the league and Leinster titles that were pocketed earlier this year and it was so noticeable that none of the pre-final commentary debated whether or not Galway would show up, as had been the case in previous Septembers. Not alone did they show up, they delivered.
“Question our location, question our structures, and question our skills, but question our character and our manliness, that’s the one that got me. I was at an IRUPA dinner in Dublin a couple of years ago and there were 10 people at the table, Dublin professionals, and four of them came down during the night and said, ‘Joe, what’s wrong with Galway hurling?’ I would walk out with my head down, that that’s the perception that’s out there. So yesterday, it was a deep inner satisfaction.
“I think there could be really good days ahead if we do our business right. We had to earn the respect of the hurling counties on Sunday, we had to earn the respect which we had lost. As much as hurling counties would say to us, ‘Galway are there or thereabouts’, deep down they thought, ‘we’ll always be able for those lads when the heat of battle comes on’.
“I’m just so glad that this question of our character was answered yesterday. And it’s up to us to go forward with it.”