Paul Galvin retirement: The elite usually know when to go

Former Kerry manager, Jack O'Connor, reflects on the retirement of Paul Galvin.

GLORY DAYS: Paul Galvin and Jack O'Connor lift the Sam Maguire  in 2009
GLORY DAYS: Paul Galvin and Jack O'Connor lift the Sam Maguire in 2009

Paul Galvin and retirements are nothing new to me. I had to talk him out of it once.

It was back in June 2009 and Paul was distraught after he had been sent off after 25 minutes in a Munster semi-final loss to Cork after a ‘tangle’ with, yes, you got it: Noel O’Leary.

Won’t we miss seeing the two of them together! We were poor that day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but losing Paul so early was a huge blow.

After the game Paul was convinced he had been wronged and I remember later on that year that he had it out — not in an aggressive way — with referee Pat McEnaney. He felt as if an injustice had been served that day.

Life as a footballer was tough for Paul around that time: there was the dragging match with the Armagh water-carrier in 2006; then, in 2008, came the incident with the referee and the notebook, against Clare in Killarney.

He was the then captain of the Kerry team and it ruined what should have been a memorable year for him. Controversy lingered.

Anyway, back to June 2009: I decided that we needed to have a rendezvous.

Paul really wanted to pack it all in. I was worried so I arranged for the two of us to meet in the Horseshoe restaurant in Kenmare. We were out of the glare of most and we just talked; had a meal; a few pints and three months later he was Footballer of the Year.

That to me was his greatest triumph. Overcoming adversity and channelling everything he had into doing his best for Kerry football. Make no mistake, he was in a dark place at the time but he ended up on the summit: proving a lot doubters wrong along the way. We had plenty of talent in that Kerry team but, for Paul, the tougher the battle, the better he was.

I remember that same year, 2009, against Antrim up in Tullamore in the qualifiers. We were in a tight spot. Everyone thinks that our season turned against Dublin in Croke Park that year. It didn’t, it turned in Tullamore. We had just edged past Sligo in Tralee and here we found ourselves two points down, 10 minutes into the second half and playing into a gale of wind. I turned to Eamonn Fitzmaurice — a selector with me at the time — and said: “We’re in tough spot here.” It was Paul and Mike McCarthy that drove us on that day and got us out of there with the win. Paul scored a goal too — a rare occurrence in itself!

I’m not surprised that Paul has taken this decision to retire. It’s always in the head of a player to quit while you are ahead. It’s that burning pride within the elite. They don’t want to be embarrassed in their last game. Paul played well in his last championship game for Kerry, he scored two points against Dublin last year at a time when Kerry were motoring well.

Paul was a man who would set the tone for a team. He was abrasive, but he was also a damn fine footballer. He was economical in possession and always played the ball to the right side of the forward. His strong points were being a second quicker to a break; playing that pass so the forward had a split-second more to use and tackling someone at just the right time to dispossess him. That’s why we brought him in during my first year in charge in 2004. You have to look at the context of where the game was at the time to understand why we wanted him involved.

Kerry had been outfought against Tyrone in 2003: that game where Dara Ó Cinnéide was famously captured on film surrounded by eight or nine Tyrone men. We felt we had to match that intensity and work-rate. Paul was to be my main man.

People talk a lot about motivation and psychology but a lot of the time it’s just about being honest and positive with players. In my dealings with Paul he responded to trust.

In January 2004 we brought Kerry on a training camp to La Santa, on the northern edge of the island of Lanzarote. I can clearly recall Paul sitting beside the pool when I told him that I was going to give him his break. I told him that he was going to be a key player for us that year. He was very enthusiastic and he fed off that positivity for the rest of the year: winning an All-Ireland and an All Star.

Now, that’s not to say it was all plain sailing. We had two great battles with Limerick in the Munster final that year and Paul was in battle mode too: getting involved with a number of Limerick players — who were no shrinking violets, I assure you. There were a few heated telephone conversations between the two of us that year. My wife Bridie recalls one particular call when I was pacing over and back in the front lawn down in St Finan’s Bay and she inside the window putting her finger to her head and twirling it around as if to say ‘he’s really lost it now!’ and that was in reference to me!

Crazy times, but with Galvin it was always interesting and exciting.

He will be badly missed.

The reaction to Paul Galvin’s retirement

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness

“It’s a shock, first and foremost. Paul is one of those players you expect to see forever in terms of playing the game. As a player, he was exceptional, just everything you would want from a modern-day half-forward. His awareness, his decision-making, his pace, his passing, his confidence to kick scores… he was just a top, top, top quality player that has been a joy to watch over the course of that extended period when they were in the All-Ireland final year after year after year. We wish him well in his retirement. I’m sure it will be colourful! I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of him as well but in terms of his football, an absolutely exceptional player and just one of those players people will be talking about in 20, 30 years’ time.”

Former Cork footballer Paudie Kissane

“It was strange timing. People knew he was back training, it was well documented that he was back in with the panel and being tried out at centre-back. End of the day he may have had his own reasons, it is hard to know really. He was a very dedicated player and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, I know where he is coming from.

“He will be a massive loss to Kerry. He has been a key player for them for so many years. I’ve good experience of going up against him and we all know what a good player he was. Kerry will just have to drive on. It is like everything, people come and go, it will give someone else an opportunity now.

“The age that inter-county players are retiring at is getting lower and lower. It comes down to the individual though. Paul could have injury problems that we don’t know about. To be playing freely into your 30s you need to be injury free and to have had no previous injuries of note. You may have the hunger to stay going, but the body simply doesn’t.”

Mayo manager James Horan

“Paul Galvin was a fantastic player. I saw on the Twitter feed last night his haul of medals both for hurling and football, club, All-Irelands, player of the year. The amount of his life that he gave to football was unbelievable, and he was not only a fantastic player but a great character the GAA needs. He’ll be sorely missed and I wish him well.”

Cork footballer Eoin Cadogan

“Regardless of any differences of opinion or clashes we might have had, Paul is a charismatic figure who wore his heart on his sleeve and will be a loss to the GAA and to Kerry. I wish him well in his retirement.”

Meath manager Mick O’Dowd

“I just wish him well in his retirement. He was Footballer of the Year at one stage so obviously was an outstanding player for Kerry. I never managed against him or played against him. But he was that type of player that links defence and attack and was really good on breaking ball particularly, anyone could see that. Then he was quite accurate also with his kicking and also seemed to pop up with a couple of important scores.”



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