Dan Sheridan/INPHO
# coming together
The dressing room speech that helped Galway recover from late chaos against Armagh
Galway selector John Concannon was full of praise for the squad’s leaders.

IT WAS ONE of the most extraordinary All-Ireland quarter-finals. Galway were leading by six points in injury time, then Armagh dealt a one-two sucker punch combination. Two goals and a stunning free-kick later, it was all level. 

On top of that, the sides clashed at the entry to the Cusack side dressing-rooms. As has been much discussed, a non-playing extended panel player gouged Damien Comer, incensing his Galway team-mates. Chaos in Croke Park. 

How did Galway recover? Their season was on the line. Surely their heads were scrambled? Instead, they emerged composed and kicked the first point of extra-time before eventually winning on penalties. 

padraic-joyce-speaks-to-his-team Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It is the leaders in the group,” explains Galway selector John Concannon. “The Paul Conroys and an unheralded guy ye won’t know, James Keane.

“His words in the dressing room in those ten minutes were just fantastic. He has only come in over the last few months. He is just an exceptional man and an exceptional football brain for a substitute goalkeeper, no disrespect to substitute goalies!

“His words were brilliant at the time. Apart from what Padraic said to them, it was the players that wanted to win, that they weren’t going to have this soft belly that Galway are supposed to have.

“The Damiens and the Shanes and the Pauls and as I say, James Keane. It was their words more than any inspiration from the background team.”

Keane is a former Galway United goalkeeper, who played for the soccer club alongside current number one Conor Gleeson. The Barna club man has been backup since Conor Flaherty’s injury in the Divison 2 league final.

What does it say about the setup? Former Dublin sports performance coach and boxer Bernard Dunne joined the ticket at the start of the season. At their best under Jim Gavin, Dublin empowered players to drive the ascent. For manager Padraic Joyce, Keane’s contribution reflects well on the panel. 

“It is a really good group, I have to say, a really tight group and if a fella has something to say, he’ll say it which is great.

“Obviously, you can be thinking that, just because James is sub keeper, he shouldn’t be saying anything. But he’s up in the stand, he can see what’s going on as much as they are and might be able to give nuggets of information to the boys on the pitch.” 

Concannon has been alongside Joyce through thick and thin. He is a fellow product of St Jarlaths and was a selector with the U20s in 2019. The Miltown native progressed to the seniors with Joyce later that year.

john-concannon Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

After a bright start, the team stuttered badly. In hindsight, he is still unsure why. 

“We felt Covid affected us more than anyone else,” says Concannon.

“But again, was that an excuse? It was awful at the time having to have meetings in marquees and out in the wintertime football.

“We all know we had a great start to the league when Padraic took over and everyone used Covid as an excuse but I can’t put my finger on what it was down to.

“The first full season back is so enjoyable. Using the full facilities in Loughgeorge, training properly, being able to go away for weekends and to get to know the guys properly. The first training camp we had in February and a weekend away all helped with the camaraderie.”

That training camp was at Blanchardstown. Carlton House there had been a popular spot for Galway teams prior to the pandemic. Getting back together was a welcomed chance for a young team to build some much-needed fellowship. The squad developed and grew. 

There were changes on the coaching side too, with the acquisition of Cian O’Neill. O’Neill has now made an All Ireland final as coach/trainer with four different counties. Tipperary hurlers, Mayo, Kerry and Galway footballers. For Concannon, it was a welcomed addition.  

“First of all, he is a fresh voice which is very important. There were a couple of other changes in the backroom team.

“But his experience alone is massive and it is great to get an outside voice and to look at things with a helicopter view. His video analysis is second to none. The way he explains things, his job is as a lecturer in Cork but the way he explains things is brilliant.”

Locally, bunting and banners are flying high. Around Eyre Square and on the county’s major roadways, pop-up flag shops are manfully spreading maroon and white colour. The county is coming alive as the All-Ireland final looms. Just the way Concannon wants it. 

“21 years not in an All-Ireland final and every time I am asked I always say it: it is not good enough for a traditional county like Galway and the population playing football here.

“I work in the city and the buzz is brilliant. The buzz around Milltown is brilliant and all the surrounding clubs.

“I just hope to God all the supporters get behind the team. Because the amount of work the lads put in and even the lads in the background that don’t get any of the limelight, like the stats guys. Particularly a colleague of mine from Milltown, Noel Connolly, who does the stats and never gets a bit of praise.

While we haven’t won anything yet the amount of work they have done to get us to the final is phenomenal. We are going to enjoy it but we aren’t just there for the occasion. We are there to win it.

“Padraic said it at the start. Some people said, was he mad? But Padraic is a winner. He instilled that confidence into the background team and there are no two ways about it: we are going up there to win that match and we will be devastated if we don’t.”

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