Finnerty, Peter

07 August 1992

Galway defender Pete Finnerty
PETER FINNERTY

Galway badly need the Mullagh powerhouse

At the start of the season, you’d probably have nicked odds of 4/1 against Galway winning this year’s All Ireland Hurling Championship. By the same token, even money would have been on offer for the Tribesmen to beat the Leinster champions of whatever hue on August 9th next.

Beating Kilkenny will be the prerequisite for any final gamble on Liam McCarthy Cup day and for punters everywhere bar Galway itself, even money still looks to be fair odds. Just how many punts punters decided to flutter on Galway in the coming days could well hinge on the well-being or otherwise of one Peter Finnerty, the team’s ’erstwhile powerhouse

Battling to overcome a cruciate ligament problem which has isolated the Galway star over the last nine months from competitive hurling, the Mullagh maestro has, perhaps, unwittingly handed the Cats a welcome psychological bonus. Interviewed by the Hogan Stand this week, Finnerty, the thoroughbred, has declared himself to be a non-runner in the August 9th classic. Suddenly the odds of even money don’t look the tempting after all.

“At this stage, I’m just about seventy per cent right, that’s about it. On that basis I’d have to rule myself out of the reckoning. One bad rattle for the knee at the present time and I’d be history. The Kilkenny game is out for me”.

When interviewed, Finnerty talks about the game of hurling as if he never talked about it before. Despite being at the very heart of things, at the very top of the sport for nearly ten years now, his opinions and theories on the game are refreshingly forthright, honest and free flowing. This, despite the fact that it’s well past 11 p.m. and he’s behind the counter of his recently acquired Supermac fast-food outlet in Tuam. A Bank of Ireland Finance employee by day, a slave to Jarlath Cloonan’s organised training by evening and a self-employed businessman by night entails more often than not a 14-15 hour working day for the prince of hurling defenders. Under the strain of trying to reconstruct a cruciate ligament and putting bread on the Finnerty kitchen tables, something, sometime will have to be decided upon. He jokes that the “body is holding up badly” but, common as it is, Finnerty’s knee injury is a draining one, Rest is essential after exercise. Ask Pat Spillane, Niall Cahalane or even Galway’s own Martin Naughton, all veterans of such an injury.

Still, Finnerty’s battle to regain total fitness apparently over-rides all other currents tasks life has placed in front of him at present. The routine of training, first recommenced in mid-June, now assumes greater intensity. A fifteen minute warming up session is followed by fifteen minutes of hard sprinting, following by three minutes rest, followed by fifteen minutes of sprinting, followed by a three minute rest followed by…Finerty’s slog is hard, heart-breaking and horribly painful for one not quite completely free of the nightmare memories of the November ’91 incident which threatened to halt in its tracks the inevitable progression of the Galway man to hurling’ Hall of Fame
Ironically, it was while training with the local Tuam Rugby club that the mechanics of the knee were burst open on that fateful day. At the time, the former All-Star truly believed that his sporting life had come to an abrupt ending. Now months and months later, he admits that only time will tell as to the long term implications of the injury in terms of future appearances for Galway or even his home club of Mullagh. Optimistically, he considers that he has a 99% chance of recapturing his pre-Nov.’91 level of fitness and overall mobility. Galway fans, in their thousands, and lovers of the game universally, will watch with bated breath the percentage game in the months ahead.

Peter Finnerty is, thus, banking on a Galway win over Kilkenny in the forthcoming All-Ireland semi-final. Ever since he got the go-ahead from a specialist last May to begin building work on the muscles of his knee, a place on the Galway panel, at least, has been his goal, his only objective. From the moment he came to terms with the nature ad extent of his injury, Finnerty made up his mind to go for the long haul that spelt total recuperation.

He has come on in leaps and bounds in search of ultimate renaissance. From crutches to a push bike, from lengths in the local baths to light work-outs in the gymnasium. Later his other passion, golf, helped to further the rebuilding work until mid-May saw him back jogging at a modest pace. Two months on and he’s holding very little back in putting the recommended strain on his knee, turning sharply and taking a full part in Galway’s collective training sessions.

A National League debutant with Galway Seniors back in 1983, Finnerty captured a place of his own on the team by the time the ’85 Championship series had got underway. Few were surprised that, at 21 years of age, his rise to prominence was steady and sure if not wholly spectacular. The Mullagh clubman, like many of his kind in a burgeoning Cyril Farrell inspired set-up, worked hard to make the grade in the knowledge that he had to. A good pedigree wasn’t enough to clinch a place on the Galway team of the mid-eighties. Finnerty, however, found no difficulty whatsoever in serving his apprenticeship to a team which sported household names like Molloy, Forde and Connolly. Making the panel, in itself, was an ambition fulfilled.

Two years before making his Championship debut alongside the aforementioned brigade of stars, he had plied his skills in the shadows of inter-county Junior hurling behind colleague numbering amongst them current Galway captain Michael Coleman. The 1983 All-Ireland Junior Hurling Championship semi-final featuring Galway and Cavan was played in Cootehill before some 80 spectators at the Cootehill venue. One local observer, on seeing Finnerty’s skills for the first time, remarked “never before have so few people seen so much skill”. They were words, at the time, which would be echoed for many years to come in the wake of Peter Finnerty’s masterly touch.

Finnerty’s spring appears to be inexhaustible. His galloping runs out of defence with the sliother glue-like to the end of his hurl, his power to recover lost ground and his willingness to give his opponent a breather while he goes on the overlap, have all become hallmarks of his game ever since he first came to prominence as an immensely strong County Minor.

Underage hurling for Finnerty provided him with valuable experience, a high profile on home ground and mixed success on the field of play. Motivated largely as a youngster by Sean Glynn, he was educated principally at Ballinasloe secondary school. Despite the lack of any great emphasis on hurling there, Finnerty quickly fostered a mean, lean reputation for himself as a no-nonsense defender. Tony Keady was to acquit himself in the same environment alongside the Mullagh ace. Three All-Ireland Vocational Schools medals were collected en route to automatic selection on the Galway Minor side.

In the same year that he clinched an Intermediate Club Championship medal, to the joy of ’erstwhile mentor John Murphy Senior and Co., the strapping youngster lined out at Croke Park in the All-Ireland Minor Championship final. That was in 1982 and against a Tipperary side that included John Leamy, Cormac Bonnar, John Kennedy, Noel Sheehy and Aidan Ryan. Galway players alongside Finnerty at full back listed such as Pat Malone of Oranmore, Gerry McInerney of Kinvara, Anthony Cunningham of St.Thomas and directly in front of the Mullagh man Tom Helebert at centre half back. Tipperary won and Peter Finnerty has still not forgotten the sense of disappointment he felt that day as he trooped off the pitch at Croke Park on September 5th, 1982. Losing doesn’t agree with him.

A county with one of the most consistent assembly line productions of young talent in the country, Galway’s emergency replacement for the injured Mullagh player has, ironically, been the aforementioned Helebert. The then Ballindereen club player has, according to Finnerty, fulfilled all the potential he exhibited as a key defender in the county’s minor team of ’82. “I have always rated Tom (Helebert) very highly and this last while he is playing with great conviction and confidence. He’s done well to get over his own injury troubles and that sort of determination is holding him in good stead now,” the one-time member of the Garda Siochana conceded generously.

Well aware that at the end of the day, the Ballindereen wing-back could mean the difference between a dream return to an All-Ireland final place and relative anonymity on the substitutes bench Peter Finnerty is typically honest and rational in his outlook. “The fact that Tom and myself might eventually be competent for the one position will be good for the team. At the moment, he probably realises I’m breathing down his neck and I know I’ve my work cut out, not only to regain full fitness but to get a place back on the team. It’s a healthy situation for both of us to be in.”

An All-Ireland Senior Championship medal winner in 1987 and ’88 Pete is strangely reticent when it comes to weighing up the Kilkenny challenge. “I was impressed by their forwards but then again, it’s very difficult to judge how strong Wexford were on the day. I feel that the current Kilkenny team are a bit short of experience and that’s something we can exploit,” the 28-year-old veteran conceded.

As for a possible run-out against a probable Cork opposition, Finnerty is determined to hedge his bets. “If we can beat Kilkenny, then I will have nearly another month to recover lost ground. At that stage, hopefully, I might at least be considered by the selectors for inclusion in the panel. I admit that the odds have shortened to my advantage very well over the past few months. I’m fairly hopeful.”

Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 07/08/92.