John Commins: Time for a new era of Galway heroes to emerge

After the full Irish breakfast and early morning mass in their Dublin hotel, Cyril Farrell would insist on a quick trip out to the Phoenix Park to allow his Galway hurlers limber out.

It was an itinerary adhered to in the early 80s during Farrell’s first stint as Galway manager and was again implemented when he returned the county to the first of four consecutive September appearances in 1985.

On the morning of the 1987 decider, heavy rain put paid to their session in the Park. There was “no three sets of gear like they have nowadays”, remarks John Commins, and so the players weren’t going to risk arriving into Croke Park like a crowd of drowned rats for the sake of a couple of pucks.

The squad took shelter under a set of trees and passed the time discussing how they’d go about dismantling Kilkenny.

“We arrived back in the Aisling Hotel and there was a big crowd in there asking, ‘How did the training go’,” recalls the two-time All-Ireland winning-goalkeeper. “‘Ah sure twas mighty,’ we told them. They said, ‘sure ye look very dry’. ‘We had towels on the bus,’ was our reply.”

The Tribesmen finished the afternoon as All-Ireland champions, Kilkenny downed on a scoreline of 1-12 to 0-9.

“The one thing I would say is that we had our training sessions done, so what we did out on the Phoenix Park wasn’t going to change who won the All-Ireland.

“Nowadays, I think a lot goes into the warm up.

“I see them getting more complicated by the week. Often I would speak to Pete Finnerty and say, ‘imagine if we had to do that?’ Twenty minutes of warming up. You wouldn’t get your first wind, never mind your second wind.”

Between the sticks for the two-in-a-row of ’87 and ’88, Commins says his group have carried the mantle long enough. 27 years is too long a wait for a county of Galway’s pedigree and tradition.

“The shoulders are getting heavy now at this stage carrying it. I think the sense around the country, let alone around the county, is that it is time Galway delivered. I have been a sales rep for 25 years and the first question I get is: what is happening with Galway? If I got a euro for every time I answered that, I would be a millionaire. There have been lost opportunities.

“The two we won in 1987 and 1988, we could have lost. I look at ’85, ’86 and ’90 as ones we probably should have won.

“Coming with the current bunch; most have been there in 2012, they have the experience of a final and they know what it is like to sit in the dressing room after losing an All-Ireland.

“Please God, they will know on Sunday what it is like to sit in one having won an All-Ireland.”

Present goalkeeper Colm Callanan has been one of their most consistent performers this summer, from superbly keeping out Paul Ryan’s penalty drive in the first half of the Leinster quarter-final replay to the reflex save from Lar Corbett’s ground stroke in last month’s semi-final.

Added to his calming influence on the inexperienced trio sitting directly in front of him, Commins, who is part of the Galway minor management team for Sunday’s curtain-raiser, believes Callanan has brought stability to the No 1 shirt.

“It changed too often, to be quite honest.

“When I left in 1991, Richie Burke was ina nd then Richie broke his leg. I was asked back, didn’t go back.

“Then someone else came in. Then in the period of 15 years, you had definitely nine or 10 goalkeepers.

“You look at Brendan Cummins, Damien Fitzhenry, Donal Óg... they were all there for a good quality of time. It is a very important position. Your backs and goalkeeper work as a unit. Colm has done really, really well. Nothing seems to bother him. Definitely he will give the backs great confidence.”

Included in that defence is Commins’ Gort club-mate Aidan Harte. First drafted in by John McIntyre in 2010, the 27-year old has had to bide his time on the bench.

“Before he was looking over his shoulder. Now he knows that jersey is on his back and it’s his position. He’s not guaranteed it, but when you get a run of four or five games, you’ve far more confidence. You’re not looking to the line if you miss the first few balls.”

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