August 27, 1993
Joe Connolly - Captain of the mould breaking Galway squad of 1980
Still a leader in the Western Business World
For the Fennelly's of Ballyhale, the Bonnar's of Cashel and Hendersons of Johnstown, read the Connolly's of Castlegar. Hurling clans all, bastions of the sweetest field game in the world and real life monuments to the spirit and craft so unique to G.A.A. folk.
Synonymous with the emergence of Galway hurling over the last decade and more, the Connolly brothers of Castlegar fame have won the hearts of hurling purists, aficionados and critics alike over the years. Now as the spotlight once again focuses on the amazing self-propagating character of Galway hurling talent, memories of Joe Connolly et al at their best come flooding back.
Captain of the mould-breaking 1980 Galway squad which stopped the rot of successive eliminations lasting some fifty six seasons before hand, the moment thirteen years ago when Joe Connolly lifted the Liam McCarthy Cup skywards to tumultuous applause from all and sundry around the country save those of Limerick origin will forever remain a benchmark within the archives of the G.A.A. The moment when the G.A.A.'s own David left the giants of the game sitting on the seat of their pants. The moment when Galway hurling re-affirmed their right to a place where the lords of the game reside. The moment Joe Connolly will always treasure.
"It was a victory which in everyway was a watershed for hurling in the county if not the country. We had been bridesmaids for so long beforehand without really having played a bad semi final or final. Our win in '80 was just a culmination of a number of earlier underage successes but it was no less sweet for that", commented the Sales Director of Connolly Sports, Galway.
Beating Limerick in 1980 was something Galway's hurling fraternity planned for a long time. Pre-meditated and a feast which, contrary to reviews since by those a distance away from the Maroon's hurling heartland, wasn't accomplished overnight. Nor did the 1980 All-Ireland title win signify the beginning of Galway rise and rise as a hurling power. Who says so? None other than the Galway's Captain of yesteryear. "I'm not so sure that the beginnings of what we see of Galway hurling today began with that 1980 win. Looking for our All-Ireland win may well have been laid back in 1965. At that time men like Toddi Byrne, Matt McDonagh, Pól O'Foighil and P.J. Callinan were the principal men behind the setting up of an Under 14 special hurling competition within the county. It was the first real co-ordinated and organised structure to promote underage hurling and it proved a major success".
Like many another aspiring hurlers of his time, Joe's baptism in local competitive hurling circles arrived via the aforementioned Bord na nOg brainchild. Joe began at ten years of age but older brother John was in his stride before him, beating a path on to the county Minor side and making known his credentials in double quick time.
The Connolly's were far from alone in being blooded by the new hurling structures. Indeed five years after the new Under 14 tournament was established, Galway sauntered to the All-Ireland Minor final in 1970 only to lose out to Cork and in the Under 21 corresponding decider that followed two years later turned the tables on their own misfortune to romp to All-Ireland glory under the leadership of Iggy Clarke. In both cases, the Galwegians included in their ranks many graduates of the Under 14 tournament.
Strangely, the Connolly brothers, sons of Connemara born parents Pat and Mary, were more inclined to worship the feats of one Enda Collaran during their youth than the Babs Keating's of the rip-roaring sixties. Galway's All-Ireland football success in winning the Sam Maguire Cup in 1964, '65 and '66 plus Galway's successive poor Munster Championship hurling returns left John, Pauric, Michael, Joe, Gerry, Tom, and Murt invariable more focussed on the big ball game rather than the game that would eventually make them famous.
While there was no organised underage football in Castlegar there was always the local "kick-around"with the Egan neighbours and would-be county hurlers themselves. Paddy, Thomas, J.J. and Gabriel Egan were influential in those early days and young Joe and brothers benefited accordingly. Not enough though to prevent neighbouring club Oranmore from dominating competitive fare at Under 14,16, 18 and 21 level in Galway during Joe's development as a student hurler of great promise.
Joe Connolly's early apprenticeship was one which wasn't as painted earlier, without it's disappointments. The famine before the feast in essence for the Castlegar starlet then, as a place on the Galway Minor panel in 1973 saw him witness from the bench, his team slip to a one point 3-7 to 4-5 defeat in the All-Ireland decider to Kilkenny. An out and out attacker whose bustling type made him a hit with the fans but a handful for defenders, his All-Ireland Championship semi final debut appearance in 1974, brought him no more luck either. "Killkenny annihilated us that year and I was unfortunate enough to be marked that day by Joe Hennessy. Joe was a flyer, a real stylist and lovely hurler all-round", Connolly Sports Managing Director recalled.
At College in nearby Saint Marys it was to be a similar hard luck story for the Castlegar teenager. He figured on three 'Mary's teams that failed by the smallest of margins (two points, one and two again) against a Noel Lane/Bernie Forde powered Gort combination in the Connacht Colleges final. "Despite the narrow misses I enjoyed my hurling at Saint Mary's and thanks to the likes of Father Michael Kelly and Father Sean O'Flaherty my own game developed greatly. I was a day boy at the school and I, like many others at the time, would be left home by Father Kelly or Father O'Flaherty no matter how far he had to travel to make sure we were looked after."
Born and reared within a puck of the ball from the racecourse grounds where Castlegar used to work out, Joe seen brothers John and Pauric collect Galway Senior Championship medals in 1967 and '69 and aimed to do likewise. Castlegar boasted a brilliant tradition. Winners of a five in a row from 1936-'40 and another successive quintet of titles again in the fifties, the club provided the best stomping ground possible for the aspiring Connolly's.
Currently Team Manager of Castlegar Senior hurlers, a position he has held for the last three years, Joe reflects back on club career which firstly reaped little of note but then exploded into a veritable source of successive honours during the late 'seventies and 'eighties. A team mate alongside such rising stars as Pat Fleury, Frank Holohan, Kieran Brennan, Niall McInerney, Joe McDonagh, Cyril Farrel (former county manager) and Conor Hayes on the Fitzgibbon Cup winning team of 1977, Joe's first county Senior Championship success came on stream, two years later. "Our win in '79 was a close call but the victory came as a huge relief. It felt fantastic. It was my sixth Championship season with Castlegar and I was beginning to have my doubts that I'd ever be on a winning club team despite the fact that the club had won the county title in 1967,'69,'72 and '73".
If joy was unconfined in '79 around the Racecourse, Joe and team mates were left galloping to mild hysteria the following year when Joe himself, Castlegar, Galway and Connacht were collectively acclaimed as the best bunch around on the national scene. Previously elected Galway player of the year in 1979, Joe would become an All-Star and figured prominently on the club team that blitzed apart the respective challenges of Blackrock and Ballycastle to clinch the All-Ireland club title. The Castlegar attack leader and ace freetaker still regards the club's penultimate victory over the star spangled Blackrock team as his most enjoyable game ever. "Blackrock had seven of the Cork team that won the 1979/'80 National League, including the likes of Ray Cummins. It was the most enjoyable game I was ever involved in as regards the satisfaction of having been part of a job well done. Beating Ballycastle by three points after that put the gloss on it for us".
Admittedly surprised that Galway upset red hot favourites Tipperary in the recent All-Ireland semi-final, Joe's captaincy of the historic 1980 all-conquering All-Ireland winning Galway side was a special moment then, and remains so. Railway Cup joy later that year is deeply ingrained in his heart of hearts too. As for the present and the immediate future, Joe shows that he's a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. "I'd have a sneaking feeling that Galway will do the business in the All-Ireland final. I hope the forwards will show their true form on the day though because the team will need to be on all cylinders against Kilkenny. The Cats do the simple things right, have no notions about themselves and are a very strong combination. It should be a terrific final.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
27/ 08/ '93
Most Read Stories