For a player who was deemed surplus to Galway requirements during the two Covid-interrupted seasons, Tom Monaghan’s “All-Star form” of recent weeks makes for quite the comeback story.
And in order to do this story justice, its telling must begin at the very start.
An All-Ireland minor winner in 2015, Monaghan was still only 19 years of age when making his senior debut off the bench during Galway’s 2017 league opener against Offaly.
It was a league campaign where then-manager Micheál Donoghue displayed plenty of faith in the Craughwell teenager. Monaghan started the county’s Round 3 win over Laois, a game he hit three points in, and then made scoring appearances in Round 5, the quarter-final, semi-final, and final.
A championship debut followed in the Leinster quarter-final against Dublin, Monaghan on the scoresheet when introduced against both the Dubs and Wexford in the Leinster final.
It was the dream year, finishing it as he did with Fitzgibbon Cup, League, and All-Ireland medals in the pocket.
Inter-county careers, though, rarely run in straight lines, especially where precocious Galway hurling talents are concerned, and between 2018 and last year, Monaghan saw all of nine minutes of championship action.
Injury was a factor early on during this period and while he worked himself back into contention in the summer of 2019, the new management team that arrived on the scene for the 2020 season, headed up by Shane O’Neill, dropped Monaghan from the panel around February of that year.
Jamie Wall was Monaghan’s Fitzgibbon Cup coach during his four years at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. He’s in no doubt that being surplus to requirements during O’Neill’s two-year tenure would have hurt Monaghan, but his response, Wall added, shows why he is made for the big stage.
“When a new manager comes in, someone like Tom might be thinking, this is my chance. But then it goes the other way, and you could be forgiven for saying, is it going to happen for me?,” Wall remarks.
“He took that knockback on the chin and went away and did his business, shone for Craughwell in the county championship and did the gym work to get to a place physically where he can now survive at inter-county level.
“Nobody can teach you that. You either have that in you or you don't. The work he did is bearing fruit.”
Indeed it is, Wall texting Monaghan following Galway’s Leinster round-robin win over Kilkenny earlier this month to convey his delight at Monaghan’s latest breakthrough display.
From six first-half possessions, the 25-year-old struck three points, had two assists, and put paid to a Kilkenny attack.
It was in keeping with his performance at Wexford Park, where from 10 possessions the midfielder delivered four points. Five years after making his championship debut, last month's Leinster opener in the southeast represented his first championship start.
“You look at someone like Tom Monaghan and Jack Grealish who came in for trials [late last year] and they're performing,” said Henry Shefflin following the Wexford draw.
He contributed 0-6 from half-forward against Laois last weekend and will look to continue this comeback story when Dublin visit Salthill on Saturday as Galway, who are already assured of their place in the All-Ireland series, chase Leinster final involvement.
“He is in All-Star form,” Wall continued. “He's nearly in the mould of Cha Fitzpatrick. He's stylish, breaks lines, and pops up with three and four points per game from midfield. I am just so glad that someone has come in and saw that that's a role for him.”
Two-time All-Ireland-winning Galway minor manager Brian Hanley oversaw Craughwell’s run to last year’s county semi-final. Because the 2020 and 2021 minor campaigns played out one after another last summer, Hanley was late jumping in with Craughwell, but when he did finally link up with the club, he was blown away by Monaghan’s “brilliant shape”.
“The drive and desire in Tom was unbelievable. When I started to dig deeper into it, I heard of the strength and speed work he had done by himself for the previous six months when he wasn't on the county panel.
“He wouldn't have got back in but for his performances with Craughwell, and he's taken his chance with both hands.” And no question but Galway need Monaghan and more of his age cohort to share the load with the panel’s older members who have been on the road for a decade now.
“In Galway, we are not bringing them on quick enough from 19, 20, 21 and 22. There is a gap there. You see in Limerick the age-bracket of the lads who are coming in. Tom is coming in now and bucking that trend.” ENDS