SIDELINE CHAT with Ray Silke
Age: 1970 LS is on my birth cert
At what age did you start playing? Nine years of age. Cyril Mannion, our principal, was my first coach at Belclare NS from third class to sixth.
Do you remember your first game? My first memories of competitive football is the Raftery Cup with Belclare and being heavily beaten by Currandrum NS. Gerard O’Brien, a friend of mine, was in goal.
What is your ideal position and why? Centre back was my ideal position. I loved being number six as you were usually facing the ball, and were almost always involved. However, if your team was being well beaten at midfield, the fun soon went out of it.
Who inspired you when growing up/ and now? My first big GAA crush was the Hogan Cup team of 1984 from St Jarlath’s College. Mark Butler (Salthill/Knocknacarra ) was team captain and he scored an incredible injury-time winner. It was a truly wonderful day at the old Croke Park for any 13-year-old. I was nearly trampled on the sideline steps rushing onto the field – however my science teacher, George Moran from Kilmaine in Mayo, pulled me to safety. My second GAA crush was the Galway minor team which won the All-Ireland in 1986 with players like Adrian Brennan, Tommie Finnerty, Kevin Walsh and Tomás Mannion, who scored a magnificent goal in the final against Cork. Their team captain John Joyce (RIP ) was a super player too. Currently, Galway’s Shane Walsh is a really exciting player to watch.
Did you aspire to play at the top level? Yes. My brother Brian was corner back on that successful Galway minor team and he also played on the 1987 minor team. Seeing him play in Croke Park gave me a real desire to do the same at some stage. It took me until 1995 to do so on a team managed by Bosco McDermott and Liam Sammon.
What do you particularly like about your sport? In my experience the majority of people involved with GAA and sport in general are decent, honourable people of integrity. GAA can be a terrific foundation for young people as regards learning key skills like communication, leadership, teamwork and creating life long memories and friendships.
Who were the greatest influences on your career? I have been fortunate to have been influenced by many top class coaches and managers. At St Jarlath’s Fr Joe Feeney and Fr Oliver Hughes (RIP ) were top men who I admired and respected. At club level Brendan Maloney, our minor manager with Sylane, when we won a county minor title in 1988, was a larger than life character. That was my first club winner’s medal at any level. With Corofin Martin Goggins in 1991 (my first senior club medal ) and Paul McGettigan and Tony Murphy in 1997/1998 when we won the All-Ireland club. Liam Sammon was a top coach, and he and Bosco McD and Pat Donnellan gave me my senior intercounty championship debut.
Biggest challenge to date? Coaching my 14-year-old daughter. Enough said.
Greatest success/achievement? The All-Ireland successes as team captain in 1998 with Corofin and Galway.
Favourite memories? There are two. Scoring a point against Tyrone in Croke Park in the All-Ireland semi-final in 1995. Niall Finnegan, who was a top player, gave me the pass. And Joe McDonagh (RIP ) presenting me with the Sam Maguire in September 1998.
Biggest regret, if any? As a panel we under performed in 1999 and Mayo beat us well in Tuam Stadium. Not beating Kerry in the 2000 All-Ireland final when we had three or four chances to do so was disappointing. However, at least the squad bounced back in 2001. With the exceptional quality available on that Galway panel in those years with Joyce, Fallon, De Paor, Donnellan, Walsh, Clancy, Meehan, Fahey, Mannion, Savage, McNamara, Finnegan – it is a regret that another All-Ireland title was not collected.
Fiercest opponent/s? At county level Kerry were always difficult to beat, and apart from Dublin and Tyrone who have done so regularly. Mayo beat us too in 1996 and 1997 and 1999. They had good teams in those years. Tuam Stars beat us in a county final in 1994 with Tommy Carton scoring a super winning point.
Strengths/weaknesses? Being a good communicator on the field and off it, and I was a very good team leader. I read a game well, plus I always tried to be the best I could be. For any player, maxing out on your potential is the most you can expect to do. I was not the fastest on the pegs and I would love to have been blessed with the pace of a Micky D or Declan Meehan. Those boys could scorch the grass.
If you were not playing your sport, what sport would you want to play? Being from Corofin, Gaelic football is usually the number one choice. However, I would like to be better at sea swimming and on a bike.
What do you do to relax? Spending time with family and friends. Reading, walking, coaching and going for a dip at Blackrock.