Padraic Joyce comes from a family and an area in north Co Galway steeped in football but it wasn’t until he went to study in Tralee that he witnessed what real glory looked like.
And as he looked out the window of his flat in Tralee as the victorious Kerry squad which had just ousted Mayo in the 1997 All-Ireland were paraded through the town on an open truck, he vowed that he and Galway would one day experience that. Actually, not one day, but the following year and he wasn’t even in the Galway squad at that stage.
Kerry greeted the 1-13 to 1-7 win over Mayo as the ending of the famine, the 11 years since their ’86 win over Tyrone the longest that Sam Maguire had been out of the Kingdom.
But Joyce, then only 20, could tell them a thing or two about hunger. Galway had not won it in 31 years at that stage and in his childhood in Killererin he witnessed his uncle Billy Joyce coming home four times from All-Ireland finals with shattered dreams. Billy was the linchpin in midfield as they went down to Offaly in ’71, to Cork in ’73, and Dublin in ’74 and he came on as a sub in that ill-fated final in ’83 when 12 Dubs beat 14-man Galway.
Padraic Joyce got a taste of glory on a superb St Jarlath’s College team which won the Hogan Cup in 1994 which included the likes of his own brother Tommie, the Meehan brothers Tomas and Declan, John Divilly, Michael Donnellan and Michael Cloherty, and they formed the nucleus of Galway’s All-Ireland wins in ’98 and 2001.
Earlier in ’97, Joyce was part of an IT Tralee side which included Kerry’s Seamus Moynihan and William Kirby, and Mayo’s John Casey, which won the first of three Sigerson Cup titles in a row. Joyce spent the summer of ’97 working in Boston and sent Casey a postcard telling him to make the most of the ’97 final because it would be Galway winning it in ’98. And it was.
So when Joyce took charge of the Tribesmen a year and a half ago and said their target for the season was to win the All-Ireland title, not many in the know batted an eyelid.
And when they made a blistering start to the league with four wins from five, playing an exhilarating brand of attacking football, a good few more stood up and paid attention.
Even their only defeat in that sequence of games, a 1-15 to 2-11 loss in front of 11,000 at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, had more positives than negatives. They ground out wins at home to Monaghan (1-15 to 2-11), away to Donegal (2-8 to 2-7) and Meath (1-14 to 1-12) and inflicted the biggest defeat in Mickey Harte’s reign when they hammered Tyrone 2-25 to 0-12 in Tuam Stadium.
But the pandemic killed them. By the time they came back after a club championship that dragged on and inflicted injuries, they just never got back on the horse. Joyce said the 3-23 to 0-17 league loss to Mayo in Tuam in October was one of the most embarrassing days in his life. They regained some ground next time out against Dublin in Pearse Stadium but still lost 2-15 to 0-15.
A Covid-19 outbreak saw Sligo give a walkover in the Connacht semi-final and Galway went in cold against Mayo in the final. They battled hard but lost 0-14 to 0-13, their year ending with three home defeats.
And now they are off again, back to Tralee, a town that Joyce has a lot of time for and where he is respected.
“Great to be back and a brilliant match to start with, way down to Kerry, one of the proudest and best counties in the country,” said Joyce this week.
“We are looking forward to that trip, a tough assignment, we had a brilliant match with them down there last year and looking forward to it again.
“I wouldn’t say I know it inside out but they taught me a lot, in fairness, during my time down there. They are great football people, great people all round, and they will be hurting from last year the way they didn’t win the Munster championship and push on and challenge for the All-Ireland.
“So we are heading down to a wounded animal which is a scary thought for us as well but we have to be ready for that and we expect a very tough battle for the 70 or 75 minutes.” Joyce wouldn’t have it any other way.