'It would be brilliant but we'd even take one' - Galway's All-Ireland double bid reaches last four stage

The Tribesmen are the only county left who could complete the clean sweep in hurling and football.

IN OCTOBER 2020, Galway football manager Pádraic Joyce stood before the media and made a startling admission:

padraic-joyce-being-interviewed-before-the-game Galway manager Pádraic Joyce after a 15-point loss to Mayo in 2020. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It was a disappointing day, probably the most embarrassing day of my career. I am 43 years of age and I have never seen a performance as bad, to tell you the truth.”

He was speaking despondently in the wake of his side’s 15-point defeat to Mayo in the National League. It was their first competitive outing since March due to the Covid-19 interruption, and Galway certainly did not benefit from that extended break.

There were other factors involved in Galway’s demise, including the loss of Damien Comer to injury early on in the game, and a loss of form, but it was still a horrible low point for the Tribesmen to reach. 

Last Sunday afternoon, Joyce’s Galway prevailed after an All-Ireland quarter-final that needed extra-time and a penalty shootout to produce a winner. Galway, despite the exhaustion of the 90-minute battle, converted all of their spot kicks to end the contest at 4-1 and advance to the All-Ireland semi-final where they will face Derry.

For retired Galway dual star Alan Kerins, playing with a resolve that they didn’t have two years ago was a satisfying sight. 

“They didn’t collapse and they could have a couple of times which is brilliant for the development of the depth of character in the squad,” Kerins tells The42.

“It was great to see new leaders step up. We’re always talking about Damien [Comer], Shane [Walsh] and Paul Conroy but this time it was Cillian McDaid and Rob Finnerty, and a few more, that stood up on the biggest stages when they were needed most.

“The only worrying point was that they gave the game away a bit once or twice in this year’s championship in terms of managing the game and seeing it out. The most pleasing thing was the resilience they showed when they came back from that hammer blow of losing a six or seven-point lead. Then they went ahead in extra-time and conceded a goal which is a hammer blow normally but they responded with a goal again.

“The biggest challenge now is to come down off that high. The bodies will be a bit broken down and they will get back up again but it’s just to get back up again and produce that performance again against a very strong, confident and slick Derry machine. They looked very impressive in their game and they’re getting better game by game so it’s going to be fascinating.”

Rob Finnerty is a clubmate of Kerins’ in Salthill/Knocknacarra. Kerins explains that the son of the great former Mayo footballer, Anthony, has elevated to new levels of excellence having been the talk of the club for many years. His progression from potential star to a prominent leader in the team means that the Galway inside forward line of Finnerty, Walsh and Comer is arguably the best in the country.

“It’s definitely up there with the Kerrys and Dublins in terms of ability,” says Kerins.

“I know Anthony very well and he was only a 10-year-old when I was playing and finishing up. You would have always heard people talking about him and saying that he’s the real deal. He’s a beautiful finisher and a beautiful footballer. He’s been very consistent as well. He’s a few years older now and he’s a lot more developed.”

Before that last-four showdown with Derry, Galway have another semi-final to face as their hurlers square off with All-Ireland champions Limerick this Sunday. Derry might be the in-form team in football, but Limerick are a dominant force in hurling with ambitions of collecting their third consecutive All-Ireland crown this year. It’s the ultimate litmus test for Henry Shefflin’s team.

“Galway haven’t reached their heights yet,” Kerins says about Galway’s form to date ahead of their trip to Croke Park on Sunday. “They had a poor performance against Kilkenny and got over Cork the last day even though there were some areas of concern with chances they conceded to Cork in the first half. They were easy chances which Cork failed to convert, including goals. And Cork gifted them a soft goal too, so they’re going to have to really up their game.

“They definitely have that in them and Limerick haven’t played in four or five weeks, so we don’t know what kind of form they’re in. So they could be rusty for the first 15 or 20 minutes, and if Galway can get in their face and get a great start, they’ll be in the game. And historically, Galway have always put it up to Limerick. Galway only played for the last 10 or 15 minutes in the 2018 final and they nearly won it.

“They were level after 70 minutes in the 2020 semi-final and then again this year in the league, they beat Limerick. So, it’s in them but it’s about whether they can get it out of them, I don’t know.

“They haven’t so far this year but nothing better than an All-Ireland semi-final to do that. They can go in with the shackles off and play with freedom. When you play that way, you’re dangerous, no matter how the form is going. They have a quality team and they have the strength to match Limerick. All form would indicate that it’s a huge task but not insurmountable.”

alan-kerins Alan Kerins in action in the 2001 All-Ireland hurling final. Source: INPHO

While they might be two hurdles short of the finish line, Galway are still the only county left who are aiming to complete the elusive double. It’s an opportunity to join a very exclusive club. The achievement has only ever been completed once in GAA history after Cork’s football and hurling triumphs in 1990.

Galway came close in 2001 but fell short of the clean sweep as their footballers captured the Sam Maguire, while the hurlers lost out to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final.

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Kerins was involved in both panels although he only joined the football squad earlier that season. Hurling was his primary sport and it was only while he was studying physiotherapy in Trinity College that the Clarinbridge hurler started kicking the O’Neill’s ball. Kerins recalls that fascinating chapter of his sporting life in conversation with Fintan O’Toole of The42 in 2020.

In 2001, he was on the precipice of a unique achievement, and he believed that Galway could succeed on both counts.

“Yeah I did, big time. We had beaten Kilkenny in the semi-final, and it’s strange because we beat Armagh in the football quarter-final that time, and Derry in the semi-final. We hadn’t won it in so long in the hurling when we came up against Tipperary. We probably threw it away in the hurling final, and we got pretty harshly treated by the referee. We let in a couple of soft goals.

“The football was a bit more uncertain because Meath were hot favourites after hammering Kerry in the semi-final. But Galway had won in ’98, lost to Kerry the year before so this was their third final in four years. And I had only just taken up football that year so I was totally new to the football scene in 2001. I hadn’t even played club championship football at that stage with Salthill.

“That was an extraordinary Galway team. There were some generational players in the side. So, I did think we could do the double. We were in a really strong position in both. There’s no guarantees obviously because you’re playing against top quality opposition in both finals, but you always have a chance when you get there.”

Galway are close to reaching, and ultimately, surpassing that point again in 2022. Kerins is hopeful that it can be done, but is also conscious of containing some of his optimism.

“There’s always a possibility but unlikely given that it’s only been done once ever by Cork in 1990. That shows you how difficult it is to do, so it’s possible but unlikely. It would be brilliant but we’d even take one. We need them.”

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