A sequel twenty-five years in the making

Galway manager Micheal Donoghue and his Waterford counterpart Derek McGrath will renew hurling rivalries on Sunday - some 25 years after their first meeting.

A quarter of a century has passed since Micheál Donoghue was an All Ireland minor winner with Galway, playing in the half-back line of a team that saw off Waterford by 1-13 to 2-4 - also part of that team was Galway coach Francis Forde.

But the twist in that tale is that on the losing Waterford side was the current manager Derek McGrath, and for a while in that game both Donoghue and McGrath marked each other.

Now two-and-a-half decades later both men will be pitting their wits against each other once more in Croke Park, this time on the sidelines.

Donoghue, however, does not have much recollection of that game - “He’s still traumatised by it," joked Donoghue. "I remember he was playing, I don't remember any huge aspect of the game, I wish it wasn’t 25-years ago. I suppose, it’s kind of mad that after 25 years the two of us will be on the sideline."

Both men, being of the same age and with the same goal, have become friendly - as friendly as you can with a man you are trying to make sure does not take your dream away. They have talked to each other about the game during the past two seasons. "I suppose because we’re of the same vintage. I think he’s done a massive job down there - he obviously has more experience at this level than I have.

"It’s not like we contact each other regularly, but at different periods over the year we have, or just hopped things off each other. He’s someone I’ve huge respect for, the way he carries himself, the relationship he has with his own players - it is something we can all learn from.

"He's really passionate about the game. The big thing from my perspective is you can ring him, have the chat and hop things off him, he’s been good for me. They have huge unity, a great bond and huge trust in each other. In any team you want unity and spirit, and they have that in Waterford."

Single purpose

Donoghue says this preparations have been better than the previous year.

"We came in late, the boys were going on a team holiday - we met them on a Friday night or a Saturda, and our game was on the Sunday. It wasn’t ideal for us. This year gave us the opportunity to have a full pre-season and do a lot of work and get our own ideas more into them.

"From day one their attitude and application has been top class. This year in the off season we just had a lot more time to do stuff. We probably learned a lot from the first year as to what was going right and wrong, we did benefit."

Donoghue believes the sense of unity has been most important factor in Galway's development.

“When I came into the job, I said to the management team that what they put in was as important as the team on the pitch. I think with Noel and Frannie and David, the lads we’ve worked well together and all the auxiliary stuff outside of that.

"The biggest thing that players can see is that there is huge unity in the roles and responsibility. There is no ego, it creates a huge unity. When we came in we were under no illusions that these guys had massive experience and we said we’d keep drawing from the good and bad. At the start of the year, we set our own goals and where we wanted to go, look it’s gone well for us to date, we’re always learning as well."

Galway supporters have also rowee in behind the team in big numbers this year, right from the first league game.

“I think in fairness, since we met the players, we knew we had to create a team which supporters would want to come out and support. If you create a team that has the right attitude, and we’ve always emphasised the responsibility that goes with wearing the crest on your chest and the boys have always bought into that, and I think no more than any sport, if people can see that you’re working really hard and trying to be the best you can be, you’ll get the support. I think for the duration of the championship, we had a massive support and hopefully that’ll continue."

Galway did not enjoy the best start to the league with defeat to Wexford, which almost certainly ruled out promotion to the top flight.

“Ah look, at the start of the league, the number one thing was to try to get back up to the top division, but in the grander scheme of things we just wanted to go as far in the league as we could. I think I've said this before, we just wanted to go as far in the league to get us as close to the Dublin game.

"Yes, there was disappointment, the thing was we had to finish the league strong. We met the leadership group the Monday night after that game [Wexford] and they took responsibility. I think the manner in which we lost the game, we discussed that, and I think once we were all on the same page, it was a huge learning for us in our own development as a team.

"I know people refer to the Waterford game, but for me, when we sat down and had a chat, after the Wexford game, we knew exactly what we wanted. I felt fully Wexford deserved to win that match because they stuck to what they were doing. We were in a winning position, but we didn’t stick to what we were supposed to do and it was a learning curve."

Having tasted glory at an early age, Donoghoe's playing career was curtailed by a number of back injuries. However he jumped straight into coaching before he was 30 and it did help fill the void.

“It helps fill the gap, but I just had a huge passion to get involved in hurling. For the length of time I played I always wanted to get into the management or coaching. When I finished hurling at 28, I went straight into the Galway U21s in 2005.

"Rather than taking time off Vincent Mullins gave me the opportunity to come in, and that was it, I suppose."

Having won a minor All Ireland as a player, Donoghoe now has a chance to claim glory as a manager. Will it be as fulfiling? "I don’t know, ask me around six o’clock on September 3.”

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