This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
Advertisement

The inside story of 'A Year 'Til Sunday,' the great film that captured Galway's All-Ireland win in 1998

“I wasn’t thinking about the camera, I was thinking about the dream. That’s what it was about.”

A DIVISION TWO crown is on offer this afternoon, but 19 years ago Kildare and Galway met at Croke Park with a far bigger prize at stake – the Sam Maguire.

Galway’s run to the 1998 All-Ireland final and their subsequent victory bridged a 32-year gap in the county without Gaelic football’s ultimate prize.

John O'Mahony with the Sam Maguire 28/9/1998 Source: Keith Heneghan/INPHO

But something else made the win even more remarkable. The team let a camera into their dressing-room and it captured their entire journey.

Pat Comer’s great film documenting Galway’s campaign that year, ‘A Year ‘Til Sunday,’ is widely considered the finest GAA documentary of all-time.

It was groundbreaking, but familiar at the same time. Anyone who has ever sat in a dressing room will recognise the adrenaline-fuelled nervous tension, the sound of the manager’s speech inching towards a crescendo and the scenes of pure joy after victory.

Allowing the public such unbridled access was unheard of in the GAA. Nothing before, or since, has even come close.

Comer was the team’s sub goalkeeper and his day job was in the filmmaking business. He combined both of his passions and produced a cinematic masterpiece.

Pat Comer 16/9/1998 Pat Comer in 1998 Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“To be honest, it was more just for a record,” Comer tells The42. ”For years to come, it was more so the lads themselves would have a record.

“It started as just banter with the lads, going and coming back from training. A bit of craic, you know.

“I was working on a few things and I always had my camera in the boot of the car. I knew the public at large didn’t know what the story outside the white line of a pitch was really like. People can pay €20 into a game, but they don’t know what really goes on.

“They don’t know the reality. They have an opinion but they don’t know the story. I just thought it would be worthwhile telling the story.”

Comer attempted to film the documentary with his hand-held camera in 1997, but a defeat to Mayo in the Connacht SFC quarter-final put a quick end to those plans.

“I tried it the year before and I shot some stuff. I asked (Galway manager) Val Daly if he’d mind – he didn’t mind. He thought it would be a nice thing to do. We were beaten in the first round and I thought the story was gone.

Kevin Walsh and Ciaran McDonald 24/5/1998 Kevin Walsh in possession for Galway as Mayo's Ciaran McDonald looks on Source: Keith Heneghan/INPHO

“Then John O’Mahony took over and I didn’t ask him,” he recalls. “After a while I just thought, ‘this could be cool.’ So I just started shooting again and the rest is history.

“I remember in the quarter-final against Mayo in Castlebar. Stephen Joyce was a selector and he said to me, ‘I hope that camera brings us luck.’

“I said to Stephen: ‘Does O’Mahony know that I’m shooting?’

“He replied: ‘Oh yeah. I don’t think he has a problem.’

“And that was it. He never said anything. When I had it finished, we just gave him a look at it before we broadcast it and before we sent it out into the world.

“He was a bit concerned with his language in some places because he was a school teacher. But it’s just the vernacular of the dressing room, he’s not a bad-mouthed person it’s just the language everybody would use in a dressing room.”

Galway defeated Mayo that day to set the wheels in motion for the most glorious of summers, but Comer recalls having second thoughts on their first championship outing.

“In Castlebar I was really like, ‘what am I doing here?’ You’re not meant to be doing this, it’s a distraction. There’s a sanctity of the dressing room, you don’t betray that.

“But I knew that I wasn’t betraying any team talks or bollocking, or any instructions. This was just a story.”

****

Pat Comer 22/7/1990 Pat Comer in action for Galway in 1990 Source: James Meehan/INPHO

The funny thing is, Pat Comer thought his Galway days were long over. He made his senior debut between the posts in 1984, the year after his county were beaten by Dublin’s ’12 Apostles’ in the All-Ireland final.

He won Connacht titles with Galway in ’84, ’86, ’87 and ’95. He represented Ireland on the International Rules tour to Australia in ’90. He captained his home club Salthill to their first county title the same year and all the way to an All-Ireland final the following March where they lost to Lavey.

After over a decade of service, Comer had to pay more attention to other aspects of his life. County football was sacrificed.

“Life and circumstances take over,” he continues. “Football makes so many demands of you, with work and family life, you just ask, do I want to make all the sacrifice?

“I’d be playing on and off since ’84, won a couple of Connacht titles, did that trip with Ireland. It was great. You just decide you kind of get tired of putting the gear into the car and heading down to Tuam to go training again.
“You didn’t give up, I suppose just fatigue set in. You have to be realistic and say you’ve given so much time to something. But I never fell out of love with football.

“I went to America for a year, doing a bit of work. The ’80s and ’90s, employment was terrible in Ireland. Half of my class emigrated in the ’80s. It was the done thing.

“If you weren’t working here, you wouldn’t be here unless you were playing football. It’s hard to imagine it now. You only get one life and while you might have the dream of playing for the county and winning an All-Ireland, other things just kind of take over after a while and you move on.”

pjimage (2) Anthony Finnerty and Sean Og De Paor played alongside Comer at Carraroe Source: Inpho

When Comer returned from the States, he moved out of Galway city to Connemara. Believing his serious football was behind him, he transferred clubs to local side Carraroe.

“I was finished playing with Galway. These things….when you least expect them to happen you know. I was living in Carraroe and my football days were over literally, in my mind anyways.

“I played with Salthill and travelling over and back wasn’t really working out so I said I’d sign up with Carraroe and just play a bit of pub football. In my mind I thought I’d be playing junior or intermediate or something, just having a bit of craic, enjoy it a bit more and not take it too seriously.

“Anyways I got on the first team and we won the county title.”

A team featuring county hotshot Sean Og de Paor and Mayo star Anthony Finnerty, who appeared in an All-Ireland final that year, helped Carraroe become the first ever Gaeltacht club to win the Galway SFC.

Source: PJ's Classic GAA Channel/YouTube

That 1-13 to 0-8 victory over Oranmore-Maree helped revive Comer’s inter-county career.

“That put me back in the frame again. Val Daly took over the county team and he was stuck for a sub keeper one day.

“He rang me up and said: ‘Pat, you never know. The day that you don’t bring your sub keeper is the day you might need him.’

“He asked me would I come along and I did. He decided to keep me on for whatever reason. That brought me back into the squad.

“I was lucky I got a call back when I least expected it. Then I ended up on the squad as a sub on the team that had a great run.

“Then Val finished and John O’Mahony took over. O’Mahony inherited that panel. I was probably 34 years of age then. If I was outfield I wouldn’t be playing but I just happened to be surviving as a keeper.

“I told O’Mahony at some stage before the season that my work meant it was a bit difficult getting back to train. I could be anywhere in the country shooting. I told him I didn’t know if I could make the commitment.

“I’ll never forget, he said to me: ‘Pat I’d like you to stay on. I think it could be an interesting nine months.’

The Galway bench celebrates 23/8/1998 Source: James Meehan/INPHO

“That was in January or February of 98. That’s how I ended up being on that squad. I wasn’t gunning for it. I honestly thought my county playing days were well over.”

O’Mahony’s words proved prophetic. After initially questioning his motives that day in Castlebar, Comer realised he was documenting something special.

“I remember that day we played Mayo, I played my camera on my gearbag, and O’Mahony is going around giving his talk. My body is half in front of the camera, I’m half hiding it because it was the first game.

“All I was trying to do was capture the audio. It’s a good shot because it’s composed accidentally. You get this sense of athleticism, bare wall dressing room, a coach giving his instructions, it’s drama.

“Then at half-time I came back in, I was wondering if I should do it. I just sat there and there was a team huddle. I sat there and just shot it. When we won I came into the dressing room with the camera and everybody just reacted, turned around and cheered.

“And it was like, ‘Yes!’ It wasn’t just – ‘Yes we won’ – it was, ‘Yes PC you got it, man!’ That was the moment when everybody went, ‘Yeah it’s cool.’

pjimage (1) Ray Silke and Jarlath Fallon Source: Inpho

pjimage Michael Donnellan and John Divilly Source: Inpho

“I was the oldest guy on the panel, I think people knew and trusted me that I wasn’t messing around. I wasn’t letting it get in the way, that’s the thing. I had the job to do, the job was to be part of a team. If I could tell the story, fine, and if not, I’d no problems with what was number one and two.”

A provincial title arrived after extra-time in a tense Connacht final replay win over Roscommon, before they overcame Derry by three in the All-Ireland semi-final.

“Having been involved for so long, I just knew not to count my chickens before they hatched. After the semi-final, I remember Sean Og was doing a stretch beside me and he just looks at me and says, ‘Imagine an All-Ireland final, can you believe it?’

“It hung there like that. But I wasn’t thinking in terms of the camera, I was thinking in terms of the dream. That’s what it was about, it was about a dream. It’s not about football or Galway, it could be any team. I think that’s why people universally bought into it.”

Joe Brolly and Martin McNamara 23/8/1998 Galway defeated Derry and Joe Brolly in the All-Ireland semi-final Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Half-time in the All-Ireland final is an extraordinary scene. After starting brilliantly, Galway have gone ten minutes without a score and trail Mick O’Dwyer’s Kildare by 1-5 to 0-5.

O’Mahony is extremely wound-up and animated as he gees his team up for the second period. All of a sudden he brings the starting team into the warm-up hall next door, and gives them a pep talk.

Centre-back John Divilly explains on the footage: “We all walked out and the 15 subs had lined the corridor outside. They all clapped us out straight onto the pitch. We ran out. Ball thrown in. Sin é.”

Source: Humans of Sport/YouTube

“I almost never thought of asking John Divilly to be honest,” says Comer. “I didn’t know him too well, it was his first year and I just knew he was a gas lad.

“When I interviewed him he was just brilliant. He just gave us stuff and dates and times and figures that I couldn’t remember. And what a wordsmith. Half-time just sums it up, ‘We looked into one another’s eyes and we walked out and, Sin é.’

“Everyone was using that line for six months after it – ‘Sin é. Sin é, Divilly.’

“You can’t bottle that sort of stuff. As a filmmaker you’re desperate to find people who can articulate a narrative succinctly nails it and he did that in buckets.

“There’s some lovely vignettes in there. In my line of business you can have something lined up but it’s always the lucky ones that are the good ones. Cos you’re getting life and it’s being there when it happens. And then things just happen. Shots and locations happen.

John O'Mahony 23/8/1998 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Stopping in Athlone to walk across the Shannon with the cup. I didn’t know we were doing that, it could have happened and we mightn’t have got it, but now we have it on film it’s like, ‘Wow that meant so much to people.’

“And then we’d go back to Leitir Mór to Mike Geoghegan and he said, ‘C’mon I’m going up to my grandad.’ We walked into this house, his grandmother is there and his grandfather is in bed and he brings in the Sam Maguire.

“That wasn’t planned it just happened and I happened to be there. We stopped randomly by the side of the road and this guy makes a great speech in Irish, beside bonfires.

“That’s just magic, man. I didn’t direct anything there, I just shot it. It’s just luck.”

Galway fans at a bonfire 28/9/1998 Source: INPHO/Andrew Paton

Galway fans 28/9/1998 Source: Keith Heneghan/INPHO

It will turn 20 at the end of next year, but Comer believes the movie will stand the test of time. He had a reason recently to watch it again.

In 2016 he was involved as a goalkeeping coach with the Galway minors, who were beaten by Kerry in last September’s All-Ireland final. Incidentally, Galway’s star player was Robert Finnerty, whose father Anthony won a county title alongside Comer 20 years earlier. The same title that resulted in him ressurecting his inter-county career.

In the lead up to the game against Kerry, the Galway minor management decided to introduce the youngsters to a blast from the past.

“A week or two before the final, for a bit of craic, we had a training session, then had a mass and told them there would be a surprise after it.

“After the mass, we showed them ‘A Year ‘Til Sunday’ and at the end the surprise was Ja Fallon came in. The guys just lit up. There was a round of applause and they were just able to connect with him.

“It was special that they were Galway lads, young Galway lads. Surprising thing was half of them haven’t seen it. I thought it would be essential viewing for any Galway GAA guy.

“It just shows you it was of its time. Kids are growing up and they never heard of it. They don’t know me as a filmmaker just someone who does a bit of goalkeeping coaching.

“That’s fine too, everyone has to find their own way in the world and feel things out for themselves. It’s something that I am proud of. I think Galway people are proud of it.

Michael Donnellan  27/9/1998 Michael Donnellan celebrates scoring a point in the All-Ireland final Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

Niall Finnegan 27/9/1998 Niall Finnegan celebrates the All-Ireland win Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“There’s always these…someone will do one on Graham Taylor in soccer, or the Lions had one on rugby, but no-one had ever done one on the ‘Gah.’

“Sure you could do it better, but it’s hold your breath-filmmaking at times. You’re winning an All-Ireland and you’re trying to get a shot at the end, instead of jumping up and down.

“I think it was number three in video sales that year after Tommy Tiernan and Titanic. And in number three is A Year ‘Til Sunday, this GAA documentary.

“I do find it strange that people are still talking about it, maybe as not much as it was but it still resonates with people.”

Source: CR's Video Vaults/YouTube

Son of Cats great DJ amongst 8 St Kieran’s players in Kilkenny side to face Westmeath

4 changes to Louth team for rematch with Tipperary in Division 3 football league final

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

Read next:

COMMENTS (11)