Leaving Galway in position to compete regularly for All-Irelands is Donoghue’s long-term goal

AN ALL-IRELAND title is the prize at stake on Sunday, but in the long-term Micheal Donoghue hopes the foundations have been laid for Galway to regularly compete at the top table for years to come.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Tribesmen are bidding to put together back-to-back All-Irelands for the first time in 20 years.

If they beat Limerick this weekend, Donoghue will have been directly responsible for one-third of Galway’s All-Ireland SHC victories. Not bad going for a man less than three years in the job.

The county’s underage sides are enjoying success too. Galway were crowned Leinster U21 champions before exiting at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, while the minors topped their All-Ireland quarter-final group and face Kilkenny in the final before the main event on Sunday afternoon.

Donoghue’s current senior squad are still relatively young, but there’ll be a plethora of talented youngsters pushing for places in the coming years.

“It was one of the big rocks for us when we took the job that we wanted to be competing at the highest level as much as we could,” says Donoghue. “That’s the goal.

“It was paramount that we got massive connectivity and structures between the team. We had that strong relationship with Tony Ward with the U21s, and even going down to the U17s with Jeff Lynskey.

“We had Cyril Donnellan involved and Fergal Healy. Two prominent players. Cyril was obviously involved in our own set-up. He knows what goes on in the senior set-up and relays that. That’s a good foundation to start with.

Galway’s Cyril Donnellan celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup last year

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We are all on the same page and we are working towards the same thing. From ourselves with the U21s there are big connections there. Obviously, Franny Forde is with them and Lukasz Kirszenstein oversees some of the S&C.”

Kirszenstein’s capture from Tipperary has been hailed as one of Donoghue’s greatest achievements. The Polish native directs the strength and conditioning programme right through Galway’s underage system – something he wanted to implement in the Premier County.

Munster Rugby were sniffing around Kirszenstein earlier this year but the Galway county board tied him down to a long-term deal.

“For any young fella getting involved, if they’re working on the same programmes in S&C as the seniors, it’s a big advantage,” says Donoghue.

“We’re having a great summer with all the teams and there’s great talent, so it’s just to try and keep it going.”

Galway haven’t lost a championship game in two years. Their last defeat was a one-point reverse to Tipperary in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final.

Donoghue says he had no issue keeping his troops motivated following last September’s breakthrough.

“I think for us with the new structure and everything starting earlier, and with the way the year finished for us and the break and so on, getting back into it probably took us a bit longer.

“But I think once we were open with the group and everybody really knew where we were, we put a timescale on this is where we had to be at this particular time. We just used the league to get through it again and it’s funny given it’s two Division 1B teams in the final.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We just used to league to get back in but once we hit the championship I thought we hit the stride well. I keep giving all the praise to the players, they are highly motivated and they want to be as successful as they can. When they are that driven it’s easy for us.

“You go from highs and lows – it’s never always going to be perfect. I think you don’t get involved with your eyes closed, you take the good with the bad, you just move on and roll with it.”

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The Clarinbridge man didn’t shed any light on who exactly questioned Galway’s “character” prior to the replay win over Clare as Joe Canning stated after the game.

“I think we’ve learned a lot this year in terms of going in as winners and I think the expectation on us every day, people just expect us to go through it unscathed and not lose in the championship.

“If you look at all the games this year, they’ve ebbed and flowed and in an overall capacity, there’s very little between teams.

“I think we live in a world now where there’s a lot of opinion and everyone’s entitled to their opinion as well.

“There’s so many media outlets as well, and it’s his prerogative to say what he wants in relation to that and I support him and back him 100%. I think that goes with the territory.

“It’s not that we ever use it as a crutch or anything like that. Look, it’s the same as any sport in the world, if you’re up there, you’re there to be knocked and that’s the challenge, to try and stay there.

“You’ve heard me say it 100 times. We’re only worried about what happens within the group and within Athenry when we’re training. Our mantra has always been our next game has been the most important one.

“It’s doing us well to date so we’ll stay going with it.

“We have massive experience. The lads have gone through an awful lot in their own careers, both in their clubs and at inter-county level and they’ve drawn on that.”

Canning shipped a knee injury in the drawn game against Clare which forced him off during extra-time, but Donoghue says there are no concerns over his fitness heading into the decider.

“He’s okay. In fairness to him, he’s had a few knocks but he’s just getting on with it as well. Similarly to others, we’ve had four or five knocks but that’s just the attrition that goes with the last couple of weekends.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We are where we want to be, we’re absolutely delighted so I think no knock is going to stop any fella from getting into the team or wanting to get into the team, so we’re in a good place.”

The Galway boss has been impressed with Limerick this season but stresses that most of his focus will be on his own group.

“I think they have had a massive year, huge momentum, John has done a massive job with them. We got to see first-hand how impressive they were in the league and they’ve carried that right into the championship.

“They’ve had some massive results. I think when you get here the two best teams always end up there. They are going to be formidable for us.

“We have the height of respect for them, I know it’s going to be a huge challenge but it’s back to the old cliche, it’s just on ourselves and our own performance, that’s all we can focus on now.”

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