Tomás Tierney: The last man to have played for both Galway and Mayo

Tierney won seven Connacht SFC medals, five with his native Galway and two with Mayo. He would have preferred not to have had to switch but does not regret his decision
Tomás Tierney: The last man to have played for both Galway and Mayo

Tomás Tierney is the last man to have played senior football for both Galway and Mayo. ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Given the choice, Tomás Tierney would have preferred to stay pulling on the maroon shirt, would have preferred not to have had to leave his native Milltown.

Tierney is part of a small and unique club. It’s a club, if we’re being honest, that he’s likely the last entrant into - a point of view backed up by the fact that it was all of 31 years ago when he joined and nobody has followed him since.

Like Crossmolina native John Nallen four decades before him, Tierney played senior football for both Galway and Mayo. But not alone did he simply cross the western divide during his inter-county playing days, the former secondary school teacher wears the unique distinction of having won Connacht championships with both counties.

His time in maroon yielded five Connacht SFC medals - 1982, 83, 84, 86, and 87, with Tierney captaining the county for the 1986 provincial final win over Roscommon.

He was also one of the four players sent off during the never-to-be-forgotten 1983 Galway-Dublin All-Ireland final.

It was six years on from this when the chapter closed on his time with Galway, or rather was closed for him, as Tierney remembers it.

His old Galway teammate John Tobin took charge of the county team in 1989 and although Tierney saw action during the new manager’s first season at the helm, he was subsequently deemed surplus to requirements.

“I went to meet him in the Sacre Coeur Hotel. He just said, 'we'll keep an eye on you and keep playing club football'. I knew at that stage, though, that was that,” Tierney recalls.

“I obviously continued to play club football with Milltown. But as far as I was concerned, my inter-county career was finished.” 

Enter one John O'Mahony a year later in 1990.

“John, as you know, is the ultimate gentleman and very persuasive,” says Tierney, prefacing the approach of the then Mayo manager.

Tierney, it is important to point out, had been living in Westport since 1984 where he worked as a teacher. And before that, the three close friends he lived with during his NUIG days were Mayo footballers Anthony Finnerty, TJ Kilgallon, and Peter Forde.

“Johno was at me and at me, asking me if I would consider. I didn't for a good few months. But he definitely got into my head. The lads were kinda at me, as well.

“I was 29 or 30 at the time. You only have one life. And there is a short window where you are capable of playing at that level, so the more I thought about it, the more I felt, why not have a go.” 

His decision to commit to Mayo came with a huge sacrifice, however.

He couldn’t play for one county while being affiliated to a club from another and so had to transfer away from his beloved Milltown.

“It was cruel. I found that very, very difficult because we had a strong club and I was very attached to it.

“I am forever grateful to all the people involved in the club in Milltown because they fully respected my decision and were 100% behind me. They knew it wasn't my fault that I wasn't playing for Galway.” 

Did anyone tell him not to go, that transferring allegiances north of the Galway border and pulling on the enemy’s green and red war colours amounted to betrayal?

“Not to a large extent, certainly not anybody that mattered to me. At the same time, I am not saying it was easy.

“It was a very emotional time changing over. It was difficult for my family, for my mother and father. It wasn't an easy thing to do in any shape or form. But, as I said, you only have a few years to play at that level. Leaving Milltown was by far the most difficult part of it.” 

And of course who should Mayo meet in the 1991 Connacht semi-final, Tierney’s debut summer in green and red.

Yes, you guessed it: Galway.

“It was extremely difficult and very emotional,” he says of the '91 clash.

“For me, if I was totally honest, it became a personal thing between me and John Tobin. I had to prove myself right and prove him wrong.” 

Mayo, with Tierney at centre-back, won by 3-11 to 0-6.

Mayo and their adopted son again marked Galway’s card in the 1992 Connacht championship, with Tierney winning his sixth provincial medal a few weeks later. 1993 would bring a second Connacht medal with Mayo, his seventh overall.

“It was very strange,” he says of pulling on the Mayo geansaí. “But when you are a player, you are just so focused on playing and it was a little bit easier the fact that three of my best friends from college were members of the Mayo team. It certainly made the dressing-room scene much easier.” 

Inter-county careers rarely run in straight lines. Tierney was no exception, but no regrets does he harbour at the decisions he took during his.

“It is not a regret, but it would have been nicer if it never happened, in terms of that would have meant I was still with Galway.

“I always felt not all the supporters knew the full story. It was always perceived I left Galway to play for Mayo. From my point of view, it was very difficult to get across that I actually didn't play inter-county football for a year before I played with Mayo. I came out of retirement to go play with Mayo, as opposed to leaving Galway.”

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