What a difference a year makes. The Galway jersey has always carried a deep and meaningful importance for Tony Og Regan and not being involved at inter county level in 2009 brought pain. There was a drop of defiance in Regan’s revival, though, and the lonely period of reflection was utilised to maximum effect.
“It was tough not being involved with Galway and when I wasn’t in the panel I said to myself that I would do everything I could to get back in.
“Still people were going through a lot worse things in life that was just a sporting problem really, but it was tough. When I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to hurl for Galway I just want to take each game as it comes and every chance I get in a Galway jersey I see as an honour.”
When John McIntyre, quietly but effectively turning Galway into contenders once more, invited Regan back into the panel things started to roll and Croke Park featured in his thoughts again. Despite the splendid renaissance it was not an adventure without woe as Regan points to the manner in which Galway squandered a late two-point lead in a gripping, thrill-a-minute, All Ireland quarter final against Tipperary.
It was devastating to see a team leave a game with so many regrets
The blue and gold boys went on to become the standard bearers, Galway were left pondering that unenviable sporting thought: The what might have been. “It was hard to take losing the game in the way that we did because we really should have kicked on and won the game. It was awful hard to look on for the rest of the year as Tipp just gained in strength and obviously went on to win the All Ireland. It was devastating to see a team leave a game with so many regrets.
“It has happened to Galway two years in a row that winning positions were thrown away in big championship games and we have to look at it and improve by seeing things through.
“No two years are same so it is a fresh start again now for everyone. It is great to be back training, at the start of the year everyone is raring to go after the break. It is a bit of a cliché, but everyone is starting from scratch again. You just have to take each step as it comes by trying to do well in the Walsh Cup then the league and then in the championship.
“Winning matches and trying to build, build, build is what every team wants to do and we are no different. That is what it is all about at this stage and we are just delighted to be back with competitive games coming up.”
Ultimately the Championship, where Galway’s season will be defined, is about momentum so acquiring good habits early in the year is critical. “We will train hard over the next while and making sure that we are in peak form for the summer will be the focus. I suppose by the end of the National League you can gauge how you are going, but in 2005 for instance things really took off for us.
“We started to win a few games in the Championship and suddenly our confidence was up. It was strange because at the start of the Championship we didn’t know how we would do, but we got to an All Ireland final that year. I feel that Galway are close to making a breakthrough. We just have to keep believing and working hard.”
Toil is what a generation of Galway hurlers have done, Ollie Canning being the latest to join the catalogue of gifted players not to have scaled the summit in September, and Regan is adamant that there is no time like the present to deliver. “When you see a quality hurler like Ollie Canning retiring without winning an All Ireland for Galway you know how hard it is to win one.
“The championship is so competitive now and over the past 15 or 20 years it has become much more difficult to win. Others like Kevin Broderick and Alan Kerins gave Galway great service without tasting success, but some Galway team has to do it and we want to do it.”
‘Even though it is only January things are looking good’
“At the moment there is a good core of lads around the 26, 27, and 28 mark and there is a good sprinkling of young lads too which provides a nice mix. This is as good as a blend I think Galway have had in a long time and hopefully we will do enough work together over the next couple of months to get ourselves in a really good position for the summer ahead.
“A few of the lads and myself have suddenly moved into the older bracket and we want to provide the required leadership over the next while because Galway are going to achieve something someday, and we want it to be sooner rather than later. I would agree that the next couple of years are crucial for Galway and we must embrace the challenge.”
That task will be aided by Galway being able to select from a near full strength panel for the opening rounds of the NHL. Shane Kavanagh is an injury doubt for a while, but a smattering of Portumna’s top talent being free from chasing another All Ireland club title should assist Galway cause.
“Time will tell whether it is good or not, but we have the lads from the start of the year and I think that this can only benefit the panel altogether. It is important that everybody is doing the same weights and conditioning programme and even though it is only January things are looking good. For Galway to be successful the early stages of the year are about building a united bond and that is happening. We just need to keep working hard and hopefully it will be a long year for us.” A county pines to see a senior hurling team in maroon performing in September too.