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Being the son of a Galway football great, learning from Meehan and All-Ireland U21 hopes

Michael Daly is bidding for glory with Galway next Saturday.

MICHAEL DALY HAS never lacked U21 football heroes to look up to.

EirGrid U21 All-Ireland Final Captain's Day Galway U21 captain Michael Daly Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Six years ago he was in Croke Park, watching Mountbellew-Moylough club mates Gary Sweeney and Joss Moore anchor the defence of a Galway team that swatted Cavan aside on All-Ireland final day.

Four years ago he was in the Gaelic Grounds and saw another batch of Galway U21 footballers carry off the spoils, conquering Cork on that occasion.

On Saturday in Tullamore, he gets a chance to sample that stage himself when Galway face Dublin.

Niall McDermott tackled by Joss Moore and Gary Sweeney Joss Moore and Gary Sweeney in action against Cavan in 2011 Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“I was at both those finals, the one against Cavan and the one against Cork. You’d be looking up to the lads, particularly from the club on the 2011 team.

“As that final was in Croke Park, you’d always be aspiring to be there yourself on All-Ireland final day. It was more of a dream than anything but it’s good that it came true.”

The game carries added significance for Daly, captain of the Galway team aiming to create a slice of history as the last ever winners of the U21 grade before it’s transformed to an U20 competition next year.

Back in 2002, a Mountbellew-Moylough man was captain in Portlaoise when Galway ended a 30-year wait for an All-Ireland U21 title.

Daly has had the opportunity to solider alongside Joe Bergin at club level in recent seasons, contesting the 2015 Galway senior final together when they were felled by Corofin.

His admiration is clear for a player who was man-of-the-match in that U21 final against Dublin 15 years ago and is still toiling for the north Galway outfit.

Joe Bergin Bryan Cullen and Conor Murphy 6/10/2002 DIGITAL Joe Bergin in action for Galway against Dublin in 2002 Source: INPHO

Daly, Eoin Finnerty, Colm Mannion and Gerard Donoghue want to keep the club’s rich U21 tradition going.

“Joe was always a hero of all of ours. He’s still going at 35. I don’t know how he does it, he’s still playing club football. He was still winning the fitness tests last year.”

If his club have churned out a series of players to aspire to emulate, there’s been a guiding influence closer to home as well.

Daly was born as his father Val’s Galway career was coming to a halt. But he’s aware that he’s the son of one of Galway’s most celebrated players.

Val Daly didn’t get to lift Sam Maguire, coming closest in 1983 when they were denied by 12 Dublin players.

Five Connacht senior medals along with All-Star awards in 1987 and 1990, illustrate how he was to the fore in Galway’s efforts.

Coaching roles have followed since he hung up his boots. He did a stint as player-manager with Galway in 1997, was temporary manager of Roscommon in 2005 and last October was at the helm when Salthill-Knocknacarra lost a county senior final to Corofin.

Val Daly Salthill-Knocknacarra manager Val Daly Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

And he’s been priming this group of Galway U21′s for a tilt at an All-Ireland.

“You’d have people coming up to you saying how good a footballer he was but he doesn’t say much about it himself,” smiles Daly.

“Ever since I was three or four, I’d some sort of a football in my hand. It was just probably natural that I took it up.

“Since U8 up, he’s been a trainer for me. He’s actually trainer of the Galway U21 team as well so it’s the same thing, I’m well used to him on the line.

“He’s a good person to give advice and when you’ve a bad day as well, he’s not too hard on you.”

Val Daly and Michael Lyons 1984 Galway's Val Daly and Meath's Mick Lyons in the 1984 national football league semi-final. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

This spring he’s followed in his father’s footsteps by making a mark at senior level. A league debut came in February against Cork and when Galway ended a 16-year barren spell in senior football outings at Croke Park recently, Daly was sprung from the bench and whipped over two points in the defeat of Kildare.

“It was my first time playing in Croke Park. I was chomping at the bit to get out there. It’s great to get the scores as well, it was just a good day out.

“It’s good to be playing matches every week. It’s what players want. It can be tough in January when you’ve the college, the U21 and the county senior. Maybe the change to U20 level might cut that out, so it might be a good thing.”

Getting to share a senior dressing-room with Michael Meehan this spring, back in harness after a few years ruined by a troublesome ankle, has been an instructive experience.

“We were kind of in awe of him when he came into the dressing-room, all the younger lads,” says Daly.

“He was our hero growing up. Even just watching him out there, he’s in a world of his own. His goal finishing and all that. We’re just trying to be more like him, every time we go out training.”

Michael Meehan celebrates with Cathal Sweeney Michael Meehan celebrates Galway's victory over Kildare with Cathal Sweeney Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Meehan claimed two All-Ireland U21 medals with Galway, for the current crop securing silverware was their target in 2017 after fruitless minor campaigns.

“The first year I was minor, we lost to Mayo after extra-time,” recalls Daly.

“They went on to win the All-Ireland then and the second year minor we lost to Mayo again. We were probably unlucky, I got sent-off with like 20 minutes to go, we were four points up and we lost the game then.

“If we’d a bit more luck, we could have gone further in that competition. We were saying at the start of the year that we just wanted to get a bit of silverware because none of the older lads had even won a Connacht up to this.

Michael Daly Michael Daly lifts the Connacht U21 football trophy Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“That U21 Connacht was our first medal with Galway, so it was a pretty big occasion for us. Dublin is another challenge now.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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