Lads, you are of Galway…breathe in the air that sweeps down from the stands.
Inhale the hunger that hangs there, feel the power of the swathe of maroon that waves there, back and forth, back and forth like colours of a king on a medieval battlefield. Behind you there is an army, in front of you a challenger to be vanquished. Feel empowered by those who have come to be your extra limbs, to will you to rise when you fall down, to take away instantly the pain of collision, to keep your mind fresh and pure from contamination of distraction. You are focused on the task that lies ahead of you,
When your lungs feel tired, feel them full again with the breaths of 30,000 Galwaymen and Galwaywomen who are wishing you on, who are lifting you, who are soothing your muscles, who are caressing your hamstrings, and wishing them elasticity and fortitude. Feel the passion that inserts springs into your limbs, that give you Herculean powers for the 80 minutes or so that you will be dragged this way and that, in a battle of hits and wits.
Feel emboldened by the thought of radios on in homes across the plains of Connemara; in silent kitchens on Inishbofin where the waves will rest for the while to ease the shush, hear the crackle on earphones in aged ears in the pubs of Kilburn and Cricklewood, think of flags fluttering on gardens throughout the towns and villages that, although not your own, are today your own, because today, being of Galway, you belong to us all.
When that sliotar comes from the sky, let no sunlight blind you as you soar to grasp it, to hold it, before despatching it like a fire from the Gods; let the tall towers of the posts at either end shine in the radar that is your retina; their exact location becoming your second nature.
Here is your arena, for now is the reason you have shed blood and tears on mucky fields in winter, in damp dressing rooms where the scent of wintergreen and sweat and spit and socks mixed up with urgency and focus and belief and instruction saw you learn and learn and learn at the feet of those who have gone before you. And you feel the bulk of yourself, because you are bigger and stronger than you have ever been, and faster and more evasive than you have ever been. And you breathe in and feel that you are the better for all the readiness you have made for this battle.
And though you will not be distracted on Sunday, here in this arena, a part of you, the emotive part that will drive you on when it is needed, can hear the echoing voices of Joe McDonagh and Joe Connolly resounding down from the stands, when the sod on which you now stand bled maroon for a day that has lasted forever. When the place rained Galway, when the east became west for a moment that was imprinted like a negative of old in all our heads.
And in that glimpse you hear the sounds of summers past, of sun-soaked Croker and Galway names rolling off the tongue of Micheal O Hehir and his ilk, like an orator in the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome. You hear names like Linnane and Lane and Forde and Lynskey and Ryan and Cooney and McGrath and Keady and Connolly and McInerney and Hayes and Finnerty, and more and more, and each one does something to you. It adds steel to your spine, it makes you hungrier for the challenge. It wishes that you are already feeling the first challenge, that first glimpse of a Waterford jersey. Those reminders flash faces before you, of those heroes and then of your families who are nervous for you but whose pride in you has their ribs full out. The candles lit at home.
And then you remember Tony Keady was here the last time you played, a giant who wrote poetry with an ash pen, who strove forward like a knight of old, his white helmet standing out in that old open Croke Park in the days before the big stands. Imagine now how it would shine if it were worn here today in this super arena. Think of that helmet and of what it meant to him, his family, his friends, his followers, his county compatriots and let that energy lift you, to honour those who have been here before and who brought pride to the county. Turn the immense sadness at his passing into a desire to do what he would have wanted.
And you want to become part of this, part of our history. You are willed on by those who want you to take up the swords they have left down, to carry the baton of greatness for another Galway generation.
And when six minutes of the battle have passed and you hear the swish of the crowd standing and applauding for Tony, you hear his voice telling you, you are the best, you are stronger, now just go out and bate them.
And then the whistle blows and you are ready, ready for the challenge.
Bring it on, bring it on.
And you tell yourself you’re not going home without it.