FORMER GALWAY HURLER Cyril Donnellan believes the Tribesmen are ‘very fortunate’ to have Daithí Burke patrolling the full-back position as Galway seek to defend their All-Ireland crown.
Burke is tipped to collect a fourth consecutive All-Star this year following a series of exceptional performances at the heart of the Galway defence.
He has excelled on several occasions for Micheál Donoghue’s charges throughout the championship and also had an enthralling battle with Clare full-forward John Conlon in the draw and replay of the All-Ireland SHC semi-final.
“The summer of 2015, in a lot of the in-house games, I was centre-forward and Daithí was centre-back,” Donnellan recalls.
“I would have come across him a few times. He’s a great lad, he works extremely hard.
“His demeanour sometimes, outside of that, shows that he’s just a casual sort of lad, he’s very quietly spoken but he’s just an ultra competitor, just a great lad and we’re very lucky to have him.”
Donnellan, who retired from inter-county hurling last November, added that Séamus Callanan’s 3-9 against Galway in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final provided the catalyst for Burke to establish himself in the number three jersey.
“If you look back in 2015 when he was on the panel, he played most of that year at centre-back and it wasn’t until Seamie Callanan got three goals in the 2015 semi-final that from then on Daithí was nominated into the full-back position.
“He’s been absolutely brilliant.
Obviously there’s been no-one like him for the last number of years in a Galway position, but in regards to (the country), I think full-back is a very hard position to fill nowadays, you have to be mobile, strong and athletic and I think a lot of counties are struggling in that position.
“We’re just very fortunate to have him.”
Donnellan was restricted to more of a panel-based role in his last season with Galway including the All-Ireland final where he took his place among the substitutes.
Retirement had been on his mind throughout the year, but in the days after their Liam MacCarthy success, the Pádraig Pearses clubman briefly contemplated returning to the panel this year.
That was until a rib injury in a club game prompted him to step away, and ultimately led him to making the transition into coaching.
“I met Michéal [Donoghue] a few weeks later and he probably knew what I was coming with and asked me to see would I get involved in the coaching side of things with the 21s although he wasn’t the manager.
“Franny Forde is involved with both so that conversation developed, if I was interested he would contact the U21 manager for me. So I was delighted to get involved in that.
“From talking to past players, it can be a dip when you leave that and it’s a void you have to fill with something so I filled it with a bit of coaching. I’ve been busy with that. It’s been enjoyable but different. Obviously nothing beats playing but a great experience at the same time.”
“You have 20/21-year-olds there and even when I met Micheál I’d a list of all the forwards Galway have at the minute like and I just felt there was a few in the early 20′s there that could push on and placed all that on the table.
When I was in there in the early stages of my career I was in there as a ball-winner and we have great ball-winners at the minute so that was the basis of my decision.”
Donnellan concedes that he does miss the inter-county game but as the All-Ireland final against Limerick draws near, he finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being able to enjoy the build-up and drink in the atmosphere as a supporter.
He worries about Galway’s recent habit of letting big leads slip in games but he’s impressed with how they have responded to each challenge as defending champions.
“I feel that they’ve done absolutely brilliant to come back as defending All-Ireland champions.
“Obviously when you’re All-Ireland champions everyone wants to beat you and everyone that meets you meets you head on, fronts up to you, obviously that puts pressure on referees as well and the flow of games but I think they’ve dealt with all of that absolutely brilliantly to get back to next weekend.
“You’d be worried that Limerick are an excellent calibre team, what they’ve done in the semi-final and the Kilkenny game, those two games alone, like, it’s not impossible what they’re trying to do.
“The word is that they could be a small little bit naive, but naive in a good way, that they’ll just embrace the day and go at it because they’re a young team.”
Cyril Donnellan was speaking at the launch of the 2018 Croke Park Charity Challenge, organised by Alan Kerins in partnership with Self Help Africa.
The event will see people from the world of business, sport, media and entertainment partake in a charity sporting spectacle on the 23 October to raise funds for Self Help Africa.
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