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Multi-talented Galvin has squeezed in a whole other sporting life since Kerry's last All-Ireland appearance

The multi-talented star was part of the last Kerry squad to reach an All-Ireland final in 2012.
Jul 30th 2022, 7:00 AM 37,659 5

Updated Jul 30th 2022, 9:21 AM

TEN YEARS CAN feel like a lifetime in sport, and the gap between Louise Galvin’s first and second tastes of an All-Ireland final illustrate just why.

Galvin was 25 when she lined out in the Kerry halfback line for the 2012 All-Ireland final, an experience she previously described as “the best and worst day of my life in a Kerry jersey”, the Kingdom losing out on a 0-16 to 0-7 scoreline to a Cork team who were capturing their second of what would become six straight titles, during a stunning run of 10 All-Irelands in 11 years. 

Since then Galvin has squeezed in a whole other sporting life, representing Ireland in basketball and at both Sevens and 15s level in Rugby World Cups, before finally returning to the green and gold jersey, where the fairytale ending might just be on the horizon.

For all her achievements, bringing the All-Ireland back to Kerry was Galvin’s first sporting dream.

Galvin grew up on a farm in Finuge, north Kerry, where a VHS of ‘Kerry: The Golden Years’, highlighting the brilliant Kerry teams of 1975-1986, was among the most worn-out tapes in the house, while Sonia O’Sullivan and Michelle Smith stood out among few other contenders as the predominant female sporting icons. 

Her father, Aidan, was chairman at Finuge GAA club and naturally, that’s where Galvin honed her early skills before hitting an unfortunate speed bump in her early teens.

“When I started playing football, there was no ladies club at home so I had to play with the boys,” Galvin explained in a 2019 interview with The42.

I was dogged and naturally had some athleticism and fitness. Even growing up on the farm you’re always rolling around and messing physically. I remember being particularly good on my local club team with the boys at 11 and 12, but then getting to 14 and them getting bigger and faster and suddenly I’m not the midfielder scoring anymore.

“I’m kind of shoved in a corner and all of a sudden, lads that six months ago were my height are now bursting ahead of me. There is that kind of, ‘Oh hang on, I’m not at the same level here…’ but that builds another little bit of resilience in you.”

At U14 level, with no ladies team available, she gave up the sport and focused on her other love, basketball, which she had played since primary school and enjoyed a thriving scene in Kerry. As Galvin told The Players Chair podcast, “football was kind of everything (in Kerry), but then if you were a girl basketball was the main option”.

Galvin’s predominant memory of her time at Presentation Secondary School in Listowel is of playing basketball every lunchtime. Things ramped up when she started college in Limerick, and having served her apprenticeship as a bench player with the college’s basketball team, the UL Huskies, she eventually captained the side to National Cup and League success, while also earning call ups to various national squads – although funding issues at Basketball Ireland severely limited opportunities to wear the green singlet.

louise-galvin-under-pressure-from-candace-bond-and-laura-pardo Playing for UL Huskies in 2014. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

At the age of 21, a route back to football came along with the formation of the Finuge/St Senans GAA ladies club in 2010. Galvin signed up, seeing summer football as a way to keep fit for winter basketball, but was soon catching the eye of Kerry selectors.

“Even though physically I probably felt quite capable, I felt like I was going to get found out,” she later recalled.

“Even though I was starting (for Kerry) pretty quick and getting selected, any time I had a bad performance I was probably overly critical of myself because I thought that basically, I’m going to get found out one of these days and was going to realise that I should be just sticking to the basketball.”

Not quite. By 2012, Kerry ladies football was on the up and appearing in a first All-Ireland final since 1993. However, as Galvin later described it, they simply “didn’t fire a shot” on the day as Cork powered to a nine-point win.

therese-mcnally-and-louise-galvin Representing Kerry in 2011. Source: Cathal Noonan

The challenges that lay ahead would put sporting losses in a whole new perspective. In late 2013, Galvin’s then boyfriend, Alan Feeley, passed away at just 28 years of age, two days after collapsing from a catastrophic brain haemorrhage during a gym workout. Out of the grief and devastation, Galvin, along with Feeley’s family and friends, launched a remarkable fundraising drive which included a sporting extravaganza at UL to honour Feeley’s memory.

Galvin continued to play both football and basketball until another twist in her sporting story arrived. Along with a few basketball teammates, at the age of 25 Galvin headed down to a UL Bohemians training session to try her hand with an oval ball after losing a bet.

She instantly took to the sport, and had played just five clubs games when the IRFU rang. At the time, the Union’s talent spotters were spreading their nets far and wide in a bid to attract new talent into their burgeoning Sevens programme, which had entered the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series for the first time in 2012.

louise-galvin-evades-a-tackle Galvin in 2015. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

In Galvin, they saw a perfect candidate. Already qualified and working as a physiotherapist, the opportunity to taste life as a professional athlete and travel the world proved too hard to resist – even it if did require a noticeable pay-cut. In summer 2015 Galvin took a career break, stepped away from the Kerry set-up and packed her bags for Dublin, the opportunity to potentially represent her country at the Olympics serving as a new, previously unimaginable goal.

The Olympic dream unfortunately never came to fruition but Galvin enjoyed plenty of memorable days playing for Ireland as a one-year experiment grew into a six-year rugby career.

At Sevens level, she scored 22 tries in 96 World Series games and represented Ireland over 120 times, the highlight being the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, where Ireland beat hot favourites England before losing to New Zealand in the quarter-finals – the fifth place play-off loss to Spain is one that still stings all these later.

irelands-louise-galvin Galvin playing for the Ireland Sevens in San Francisco in 2018. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Enjoying the more physical side of the game, Galvin was also lured into the Ireland 15s set-up, making her 15s debut at the 2017 Rugby World Cup, two years after first lining out for the Ireland Sevens.

The multi-sport star – who spent the pandemic working on the frontline with the HSE – didn’t realise a Sevens tournament in Sydney in February 2020 would be her last involvement with Ireland, but the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought her rugby career to a premature end.

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“You just have to appreciate that sport is unpredictable, and nobody could have foreseen a pandemic coming along,” Galvin said.

“I also have that perspective of working in a hospital to see the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on families, so for it to ruin my end of career plan is so insignificant.”

The end of one career opened a route back into another.

Galvin stepped back into club rugby with UL Bohs and was soon wearing the Finuge/St Senan’s jersey too – her first football game back following a five-year absence was an intermediate county final at Fitzgerald Stadium.

The following spring, Galvin started in midfield for Kerry’s National Football League Division 2 opener against Meath, her first intercounty game in six years. It was a promising return, Kerry eventually losing the Division 2 final to the same opposition before struggling in the championship.

This year Kerry went one better in the National League by winning Division 2 before taking the scalps of Galway, Westmeath, Armagh and Mayo on their route to this weekend’s final, where they face reigning champions Meath.

Only a handful of the current group were around for the 2012 final, with Galvin joined by Cáit Lynch, Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and Lorraine Scanlon.

Galvin has been a surprise inclusion in the squad having welcomed a baby boy in March with her husband, former Kerry star Donnchadh Walsh. In a memorable interview with Off The Ball following the Mayo win, Galvin said: “I’m not sure if he is the first baby to be breastfed in the Croke Park dressing room but hopefully he won’t be the last.”

Life looks very different now for Finuge’s multi-talented star, but the goal remains the same – bring the Brendan Martin Cup back to the Kingdom.  

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Ciarán Kennedy

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