November 06, 1992
It's the Galway county title or bust for Joe Cooney, family and friends on Sunday
Even in the teeth of the howling winds and amidst the ultra lush sward of rain-battered fields, excellence will always prevail. The uncommonly gifted, with the penchant for brightening up even the greyish of winter evenings, are to hurling what touchdowns are to rabid American football followers. They make the turnstiles click and excite hearts and minds.
Our resumption of acquaintance with winter hurling is hardly one of the GAA's more notable gifts to its members. Still, the crowds will flock north, south, east and west to poorly sheltered grounds to watch the elements tear up the pitches separating the artisans from the labourers and the stylists from the plodders. In such an environment, only the fittest survive to prosper and delight. As he has done all year, Galway's Joe Cooney is once again poised to defy the gremlins whose mission in life is to promote mediocrity where brilliance holds sway.
Handed a shillelagh, Joe Cooney would still capture a place on any magical, best first fifteen hurlers selected from the past year, one would argue. Ruthlessly honest, a real-life farmer turned magician with stick in hand, the Sarsfields and county star is perhaps the most accomplished stickman currently playing hurling.
Although, still only twenty seven years old, Joe Cooney has been a trump card for club and county for almost a decade now. This year, after a relatively indifferent one last year (by his own standards), he's been back to his very best. So much so that it's extremely unlikely that Carnmore will win in Galway this season unless Sarsfields Cooney is tied down or crowded out, metaphorically speaking in the first instance and literally in the second.
Hurling with renewed zest and zeal this season, Joe Cooney's claim to the centre half forward's spot on any official best of '92 listing of random current greats is simply incontestable. Whatever other jockeying about prompts the placing of other would-be All Stars, Joe Cooney's right to the forty yards berth cannot be denied and would be unimaginable were it not to come to pass.
An unassuming superstar who once outshone Manchester City's Niall Quinn in the artistry stakes at Croke Park, Cooney the younger from the parish of Bullaun-New Inn is a master of the game he has devoted every minute of his spare time to perfecting. Now operating at the top of his form, his hunger and appetite for the game is as intense as it was when he starred on the Galway county minor team which beat the aforementioned Quinn and company in the All-Ireland decider of '83.
The tenth of fourteen children born to Mick and Nora Cooney, the family's current brightest sporting flame has been setting games alight ever since he joined his other five hurling brothers in the vanguard of Sarsfields push for supremacy in Galway. One year after breaking the Metropolitan's quest for minor glory, the 5'7", 11 stone attacker was on board the Sarsfields under 21 side which clinched the county title.
At minor level for Galway he had shared the limelight with other sparkling talents such as Pat Malone, John Commins, Gerry McInerney and Sean Treacy. At club level meanwhile, Cooney was just honoured to be part of a squad that included Noel Morrissey, Tommy Kenny and brothers Packie and Michael plus Jimmy. As an enthusiastic but slightly reticent wing forward, the quickly emerging Cooney clan starlet soon began to fulfil all the promise he had shown earlier while under the tutelage of chief underage club mentor David McGann. Parish observers and those beyond New Inn learned to recognise Joe Cooney instantaneously on the field of play, not as the wearer of his customary safety helmet, but for his tricky flicks to on running colleagues, his scheming plays around the middle of the pitch and his infinite coolness in front of goal. As the playmaker on successive spirited but limited underage teams, Cooney, the leader was very often a class apart.
A product of Saint Raphael's Secondary School in Loughrea, Joe Cooney had moved up a gear in every respect by the time he had evolved into a mature county under 21 player with the killer instinct. He blossomed particularly under the watchful eye of Cyril Farrell, as did the Galway team as a whole. They knew their manager and their manager knew them. A win over Wexford in '86 dutifully brought an All-Ireland under 21 title west of the Shannon. The famed Cooney name, long-time held in awe down Bulluan-New Inn way was once again catapulted into the homes and minds of hurling followers countrywide.
Married to Catherine (a sister of Galway football star Tomas Mannion) from Monivea and father of Joe and Aoife, Cooney is coolness personified, on and off the field. His actions under the stand, his passion in front of goal equates with his thoughtful, intelligent assessment of his club's forthcoming county final date with Carnmore. Trained by former Galway star Michael Conneely, Sarsfields have recently regrouped to unite in the face of emigration and it's consequences for a small rural parish. Players like Cyril and Kieran McGuinness, Sean Madden and Gabriel Donohoe have all been lost to the club in recent seasons, victims of man's most basic of needs, that of the need to work. Now with five Cooneys, three McGrath's (including county star Michael), two Kellys, a couple of Kennys and an impressive back-up squad flying the flag for Sarsfields, a county senior title beckons.
"Carnmore are a young and fast team who are obviously very hungry to win this year's championship but so too are we. They say that this is the year of the underdog and even though they have especially good backs, I think our greater experience will be the key to winning the county final," suggested the Sarsfields maestro whose earliest recollections of club fare concerns wins by his beloved club in the 1976 intermediate championship and it's historic first senior success four years later.
Most at home when operating out of the centre half forward position, Joe Cooney admits that he would dearly love another crack at the All-Ireland club championship title. He echoes the ambition and self belief which are the hallmarks of the current Sarsfields club. It's three years now since Cooney Incorporated won out in Galway. Then, eventual winners Ballyhale Shamrocks stopped the Connacht champions in their tracks at the penultimate stage, a defeat which still rankles with the self same squad three seasons on.
One of five Cooney brothers who combined to help Sarsfields blitz their way to a 0-11 to 0-7 county semi final victory on October 25th last over 1991 All-Ireland club kingpins Kiltormer, burly Joe's emergence in recent seasons as the jewel in the Galway crown is hardly any great surprise given the nature of the Cooney breed. With a handful of All Star awards in his back pocket and a brace of All-Ireland medals from 1987 and 1988, Joe is following in the tradition of elder brother Jimmy, a substitute on the club team for the Kiltormer game, and a former All Star whose service to Galway in years gone by is now the stuff of folklore in the area.
The incomparable Joe hurls in good company. With him on the club's march to a date with Carnmore in the county final were blood brothers Brendan (an exemplary full back who snuffed out the threat of Kiltormer's Martin Staunton), Michael (currently displaying his best ever form at left corner back), Peter (the perfect foil for the wiles of Aidan Donoghue up front) and Packie (team captain and inspirational tackler in the full back line).
The Cooney brothers are in good form and Sarsfields, as a unit look to be peaking with bags of energy to spare. Joe Cooney is undoubtedly the team's powerhouse, and his ability to cover and tackle back when required, as shown, against Kiltormer has left the Mortgage Masters-sponsored outfit heading into the county final showdown as match favourites.
Experienced, battle-hardened and obviously full of confidence, following their 0-11 to 0-7 victory over Kiltormer, Sarsfields will take some beating in the county decider. Doubts surrounding the fitness of Brendan Cooney and Peter Cooney appear to have subsided which is good news for the clan, good news for the team but bad news for Carnmore. After having tasted a couple of bitter semi final defeats in the last couple of seasons, the Cooneys certainly look like they mean business this season. It's the Galway senior hurling championship title or bust!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
6th November 1992
Most Read Stories