new era | 

By 5pm on Sunday not alone will the Kerry famine be over but a new football dynasty will have begun

Kerry’s David Clifford will be looked to as a difference-maker against Galway

Kerry’s David Clifford will be looked to as a difference-maker against Galway© ©INPHO/James Crombie

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

GALWAY’s first appearance in the All-Ireland football final since 2001 got me thinking about the halcyon era of pre-final press nights back in the age of innocence.

Between 1998 and 2001 they featured in three finals with the 2000 decider going to a replay.

The 2000 final coincided with the Sydney Olympics. John O’Mahony, the manager, agreed to my request to do an interview with the Galway captain Ray Silke before the official press night, as I was travelling to Australia to cover the Olympics.

So, I took Ray to lunch in the old Great Southern Hotel in Eyre Square where we chewed the fat for an hour.

The late Páidí Ó Sé, however, said no when I made a request to interview Kerry goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe before the official press night. I wrote a profile of the Rathmore man instead.

I watched the drawn final in a bar close to Sydney Harbour – my abiding memory of the contest is Derek Savage missing a chance to win it for Galway at the death.

I was back for the replay – the first ever to be played on a Saturday.

On the same day Kevin Keegan quit as England manager after his side lost to Germany in their first 2002 World Cup qualifier.

So, it was a busy afternoon on the sports desk.

But it’s the press nights in Galway before the 1998 and 2001 finals which have stuck in my consciousness.

After the 1998 gig in Tuam Stadium we adjourned to a pub in the town which the then Galway goalkeeper Martin McNamara was running. He spent the rest of the evening serving thirsty journalists.

One of the anecdotal stories from that night is that one journalist drank the bar dry of its entire stock of Baileys. I have always pleaded my innocence.

Three years later when we gathered again in Tuam the mood couldn’t have more different.

Forty-eight hours earlier the 9/11 atrocity had occurred. While watching the footage from Ground Zero in New York, everybody sensed the world had changed forever.

From a football perspective Galway can take encouragement from what happened in the 1998 and 2001 finals.

They made a mockery of their underdogs tag by beating Kildare in the 1998 decider before demolishing Meath with a superb second-half performance three years later.

Pádraic Joyce was a pivotal figure in those wins; he knows what Galway’s football tradition means.

At the post-match press conference following their semi-final win over Derry he reminded us that Galway were third in the all-time honours list with nine All-Ireland titles.

Galway manager Pádraic Joyce with coach Cian O'Neill during the Connacht SFC final victory over Roscommon at Pearse Stadium, Salthill in May. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Galway manager Pádraic Joyce with coach Cian O'Neill during the Connacht SFC final victory over Roscommon at Pearse Stadium, Salthill in May. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

The thing to remember about Galway is that when they reach a final they come with expectations of winning it. This is what set them apart from Mayo. Here again history could be about to repeat itself.

Mayo featured in All-Irelands finals in 1996 – it went to a replay which featured the infamous row against Meath – and 1997 but ended up without any silverware. Then Galway emerged out of Connacht in 1998 and went all the way.

Since Galway’s last appearance in an All-Ireland decider 21 years ago Mayo have played in seven finals – the 2016 decider went to a replay – and are still waiting for their first All-Ireland title since 1951. Galway could double down on Mayo’s sense of loss if they upset Kerry on Sunday.

Still, only 14 months has elapsed since a shell-shocked Joyce stood in front of us in Tralee and tried to rationale why his side had just lost to 23 points and conceded four goals to Kerry in the first round of the delayed 2020 league.

Coming off the back of a Connacht final loss to Mayo the previous winter, this was one of the lowest moment of his managerial career.

Former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice pictured as EirGrid announced a five-year partnership extension for the GAA official timing sponsorship. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice pictured as EirGrid announced a five-year partnership extension for the GAA official timing sponsorship. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

But more followed with his side collapsing at the death against Monaghan, a defeat which cost them their Division 1 status and then enduring a second- half fade-out against Mayo in the 2021 Connacht final, though they were handicapped by injuries that afternoon in Croke Park.

Truthfully, they have probably exceeded their target by reaching Sunday’s final. Not so Kerry.

Arguably their path to this moment began when they suffered a shock loss to Galway in the first round of the 2018 Super 8 series. It heralded the end of the Eamon Fitzmaurice era.

His successor Peter Keane was slightly unlucky - though his slavish devotion to cautionary tactics back-fired.

Jack O’Connor has set them free, though ironically, their defensive play has become far more efficient since his arrival.

Of course, until they get over the line in an All-Ireland final that nagging doubt remains about their mental fortitude. All the pressures is on them.

But I have visions of a repeat of the 2006 final when Kerry bombarded a suspect Mayo full-back line with an aerial onslaught early on, hitting three goals in the first 26 minutes.

By five o’clock on Sunday not alone will the Kerry famine be over but a new football dynasty will have begun.


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