There’s always been an elitism in Galway hurling that influenced the way the county used to play.
Inrecent times clubs like Portumna, Athenry, Sarsfields, Clarinbridge and Loughrea gave the Tribesmen a Hollywood look which left them believing they could beat the best in the country on any given day. In bygone days Ardrahan, Castlegar, Turloughmore and Kiltormer were the princes of the game.
The only problem though was consistency. They were famed for their lack of it.
But take a look through the Galway team sheet tomorrow and you’ll see a few different clubs sprinkled in there like Cappataggle, Kilbeacanty, Rahoon-Newcastle and Oranmore-Maree. Intermediate players on a team of princes.
The game has spread into every pocket of East Galway now and is starting to creep back into the city. Those intermediate clubs provide the white collar steel to a blue collar outfit.
In county goalkeeper James Skehill’s case, rivalry forced four villages to come together to form a club which introduced him to the game. Cappataggle was originally founded in 1889 but slipped out of existence after the ’70s with the rise of their football club St Gabriel’s. The footballers played senior for a few years while Emmet Farrell and Hughie Bleahane went on to play in All-Ireland senior finals.
But when your townland is right in the middle of Portumna, Ballinasloe, Athenry and Loughrea it was always going to be hard to ignore hurling.
Current club chairman Seamus Clancy had watched the Cooney-inspired Sarsfields spring out of the ground in 1966 and go on to dominate Galway hurling. With that incentive he formed a junior C team from the villages of Cappataggle, Aughrim, Kilreekil and Kilconnell in 1987. It had the potential to blow up in their faces given the class they were rubbing shoulders with.
“Our senior club was gone and buried and we started it up again in 1987 when we played in the Galway junior C. It just went,” said Clancy.
“I don’t know what happened. The football was very strong so everyone was involved in that. We started a Junior C team and have come on from that. In ’87 we won C and in ’89 we won the B and in ’92 we won A. Then Sarsfields came along and won All-Ireland senior titles and we were spurred on then because everyone around us was winning and in 2008 we won the intermediate.”
They reached the All-Ireland IHC final in 2009 only to lose to Cork side Blarney. But the little club with just 700 people in their community had played in Croke Park. While the stay at senior level didn’t last long, that famous year provided stimulus to build from underage level.
The U16s claimed a county title in 2010. Now, for the first time, they have three players on the Galway U16 team, Daniel Nevin, Ger Mannion and Declan Cronin. Darragh Dolan played minor for the last two years and is underage again next year. Danny Reddin is on the county U14 team and Luke O’Connor is on the U15 panel.
That year also provided a heavenly boost. Local priest Fr. Stankard kindly donated 12 acres to the community in return for a house.
“We only had to buy the materials because we got all the labour free,” said Clancy. “All lads from within the club built it. We joined with every other organisation in the parish, the camogie, community games and soccer. We called it CARS but the GAA is the main driving force.”
The astro turf is making money. The money is going into developing another pitch which is desperately needed because the current one is “the most utilised pitch in the county” according to secretary PC Loughnane. “If there’s a team training on one end you can be sure there’ll be another on the other end.”
They also have a grant to build a walkway around the land for the community’s older people.
Now other clubs come to Cappataggle to learn a thing or two.
On a Tuesday night in the depth of winter you can see the Cooney brothers rolling back the years to play a game of five-a-side. The week before the county senior final it’s usually booked out by one of their neighbours to train on.
Last month they organised a club day to raise funds for all their teams. It attracted people from all over Ireland.
“Everything revolves around the GAA here,” said Clancy. “We have a very unique spirit in Cappataggle. Our main fundraiser was on August 5 and pulled in €25,000 with donkey derbies, sheep racing and the All-Ireland turf cutting championship.
“We have a mighty community spirit. We’re renowned for it in Galway. A lot of parishes say we can do things that wouldn’t work in other parishes.”
That doesn’t mean there are not regrets though. Frank and Brian Lohan’s father Gus was a Cappataggle man. He left the area to become a garda in Clare and his sons were central to the Banner’s All-Ireland wins in the ’90s.
“He played with us and won a Galway IHC title in 1962,” said PC.
“He was full forward on the team. When we saw Clare flying it was hard not to think ‘those boys could have been with us’. You’d see others on our border with another club and wish there was an extra mile inside it so they’d play with us.”
Paul Loughnane no longer plays with them either. A victim of emigration he left the club with three All-Ireland medals, two with the U21s and one with the minors, to find work in America.
Fortunately, with Galway city just under an hour away thanks to the new M6, people can live at home now. “We’re lucky because most of the people of Cappataggle go to Galway working at the moment,” acknowledged PC.
They will be using that road on Sunday to leave Cappataggle, Aughrim, Kilreekil or Kilconnell behind when James takes to the field in Croke Park, attempting to emulate the club’s only other All-Ireland winner Stephen ‘Staff’ Garvey from 1923.
They will travel in their droves to support him but will also be there to give emotional backing to a man who won’t be playing. Damien Joyce, last year’s county captain, was one of the experienced players culled from Anthony Cunningham’s squad at the start of the year. “It’s terrible, terrible stuff. He’s such a genuine fella,” said Clancy. A Cappataggle man through and through, his loss will be felt by a club who acknowledge their heroes.
“We’re after getting 130 tickets from the county board for the match and they were gone like wildfire,” said Louhgnane.
“They were snapped up so fast because everyone wants to go and support James. He’s a great club member. He coaches the juvenile goalies in the club. He’s a role model and a leader.
“Last year before the minor final our goalie didn’t have the longest of puckouts. James came in and helped him add nearly 20 yards to it.
“Damien is a great help too. He comes early to train the younger lads and leaves late. He’s on the club fundraising committee too and is a fantastic organiser.”
But when it’s all finished they will return home with intent. The rest of the team has not been idle. They played and beat Tipperary’s Ballina handily in a challenge and beat senior side St Thomas’s by a point last week without their county players.
And as PC said, after such a long journey, this club is “going to win the intermediate and go senior and stay there”.
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