Former Galway hurler John Connolly has spoken emotionally about the legendary Castlegar family’s sad farewell to their brother Gerry, five years ago.
The famous band of seven Connolly brothers — John, Padraig, Michael, Joe, Tom, Murt and Gerry — starred for 'Cashel', as they were better known, for many years, securing two county titles before the club’s finest hour came in their All-Ireland club final win in 1980.
To cap an incredible year for the family, John, Michael and Joe went on to end Galway’s 57-year wait for an All-Ireland hurling title that September.
Gerry played briefly for the county too, but was better known for his devotion to the Castlegar cause. And on this week’s Irish Examiner GAA Podcast, John spoke fondly of the night the family gathered for one last night out with Gerry.
“As a hurler he was probably the best of us, if he applied himself. If he had the same dedication. But he enjoyed himself all his life,” John said.
“We are pretty close as a family. We all lived within a five-mile radius of the family home. And when we realised that one of us was going it was tough because it was happening over a period of time."
Around three weeks before Gerry’s death, the seven brothers, along with sisters Maura, Sarah and Mena, hired a bus.
“We sat into the mini-bus and drove around Galway all together. We knew it would be the last time.
“We finished up in the Earl Inn in Killimordaly, a great pub. The word went around that we were there, and we had such a massive night. Everyone realised what was at stake, what was happening, that this was never going to happen again.
“And the goodbyes by players that he had played against... the hugging and the tears. Leaving Earl’s Pub that night, getting onto the mini bus, it was quiet. We knew what was happening.
“But Gerry lived life to the full and enjoyed every minute of it, but it was so sad for the family.”
Winning the 1980 club semi-final against then champions Blackrock from Cork, remains one of the most memorable days in John Connolly’s long career.
"They had eight of the Cork players that had won the league the Sunday before. Plus Frank Cummins the great Kilkenny hurler. And the other six played for Cork at different stages. It’s the only game I ever remember the score of, of all the games I played, 2-9 to 9 points.
In the final, the Connollys encountered another famous GAA family, the Donnellys of Antrim’s Ballycastle.
“They had big Eddie Donnolly, a great friend of mine from All-Stars tours. They are such great hurling people. To us, the GAA is a sport, to them it’s an identity, it’s almost deeper.
“After we had beaten them and we were having a drink together, Eddie said to me, ‘you’re going home now to such a celebration, there will be bonfires all the way through Galway. We’re on the way home and we’ll be stopped three of four times, our bags will be fired around the place’.
“I almost had him convinced to come to Galway with us.”