Doonbeg lionheart Padraig Gallagher will join a select club on Saturday by playing county finals two decades apart.
County finals 20 years apart
FOOTBALLERS come and footballers go. Then you have Padraig Gallagher – a Doonbeg legend in his own lifetime and the lionheart of the Magpies’ defence who just goes on and on, and on.
He’s the Magpies’ Methuselah – 38-years young and gearing up for what will be a landmark tenth county final.
Yes, I know there are Magpies who have played in more county finals. Take Gerry Killeen who played in 14 finals between 1982 and 2001.
Yes, I know there are Magpies with more county medals – Killeen has nine, as does Michael Haugh; Eddie O’Neill is on the group with eight medals, while the great triumvirate of Francis McInerney, Kieran O’Mahony and Padraig Conway are part of the seven medals club.
Gallagher has six medals, but what he’ll have on Saturday will be a special place in Clare senior championship history – something that’s the preserve of the very few. It’s the badge of honour that comes with playing county finals over 20 years apart, which is some achievement in championship longevity at the highest level.
Only one other Magpie has bridged such a huge span of years – that’s Michael Haugh who made his county final debut in the 1961 win over Cooraclare, while 21 years later he played in the drawn county final against Kilmihil.
Before that you have to go back to the legendary Clare football captain of 1917, ‘Big’ Jim Foran from Kilkee. Foran was on the Seaside Rovers team that was beaten in the 1912 final by Kilrush Shamrocks on a scoreline of 3-6 to 0-4 at the Ennis Showgrounds, while he was going strong 21 years later when lining out for the Kilkee team against Kilmurry Ibrickane. Foran won his county medals in ’26 and ’28 but his hopes of a hat-trick of medals were dashed by the ‘Bricks in ’32 on a scoreline of 2-4 to 1-2.
In hurling the legendary Newmarket-on-Fergus Blue, Paddy McNamara bridged 20 years to his first county final appearance in 1981. He made his final debut in ’61 when the Blues were defeated by Whitegate, but in the next 20 years claimed 13 winners medals and only tasted final defeat once when Éire Óg won the 1980 final.
Now it’s Padraig Gallagher’s turn to bridge 20 years – a truly remarkable achievement in the modern game, when you consider that the only other person in sight of such a landmark is Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Odran O’Dwyer.
Gallagher’s final debut came in the 1993 against a Kilmurry Ibrickane side that included O’Dwyer. Gallagher lined out at left-half-back that day, but defeat was the Magpies’ lot on a 0-9 to 0-7 scoreline.
He made up for that defeat over the next two decades though, claiming winners medals in ’95, ’96, ’98 (as captain), ’99, 2001 and ’10. Now he’s gunning for some seventh medal heaven.
“He’s some man,” says selector Eddie Killeen. “He has his own gym at home and he looks after himself so well. He always says it’s going to be his last year, but he’s saying that for a long time and he always comes back for more. He’s a great example for the younger lads in the way he shows the others what the Doonbeg jersey means to him,” adds Killeen.
“My first championship game would have been in 1993 against Kilkee and I was marking Denis Russell,” recalls Gallagher. “The years have flown by. The first ten years was an unbelievable period of time in my career. I played in eight out of nine county finals in that period and we had a great run. Then after 2001 I experienced the other side of it before we won again in 2010.
“I really enjoy playing and training and it’s great to be back in a county final. I’m looking forward to it like it was my first final. That’s what we all want, what we train so hard for – to reach county finals. I think that if a player has an appetite for doing it they should play as long as they can, if you’re good enough,” he adds.
“It’s a great achievement,” says Francis McInerney, who won five championships with Gallagher, “especially because of the position he plays in when he’ll be up against the quicker players from the opposition.
“He has fierce passion for Doonbeg, he had great pride in the jersey and he wants to win. That’s a big thing for him and Padraig prides himself on his conditioning and he always comes back for more,” adds McInerney.
A measure of this achievement in longevity and durability is that his direct opponent in last Saturday’s semi-final, county minor Conor Finnucane, wasn’t born when Gallagher was playing in county finals.