Picture the year 1998, the celtic tiger was in its element, we where getting to grips with this new found fortune the country seemed to be embedded in. It was special, and more importantly the football that year from a Galway perspective was even better.
A 32 year wait was coming to its final stages as Galway took to the field to play Kildare is a fascinating All Ireland Final, who would have thought when the draw was made for the 1998 football Championship that Galway would have come so far and win Sam. Galway got knocked out at the quatre final stage of the national league to Offaly that year, losing by 4 points. When Mayo came out of the hat it drew fear in every Galway man’s eyes and we also had to go down to the hostile surroundings to play them in the 1st round. Rest assured this was no easy task, Mayo where coming of the back of 2 all Ireland final defeats in 1996& 1997 respectively, they had a point to prove and wanted to win this All Ireland in 1998. The wift of optimism was brought down the Castlebar with a new Galway manager in the shape of Mayo man John O’Mahony, a man who led Leitrim to a Connacht title 4 years earlier, (the miracle) as it is commonly called now a-days by Leitrim folk. Galway to many peoples surprise ran out winners down in Castlebar and advanced to a Semi Final against Leitrim on a scoreline of 1-13 to 2-6. On the day, a Derek Savage goal is the memory that stuck out in ones mind. On we marched to a Connacht Semi Final against a Leitrim team in a winner takes all clash, this is the day where we saw the real talents of Padraic Joyce who had a very impressive display and Galway ran out winners after much hard fought play. The team was now brimming with hope and optimism as Galway went into a Connacht final against Roscommon in a rain drenched Tuam Stadium.
It was a Galway team with some exceptional players, Martin Mc between the posts, Gary Fahy out in front of him, a half back line with rivaled any in the country, Ray Silke, John Divilly and An Cheathrú Rua native Seán Óg De Paor. 3 players that fitted the bill perfecticaly for their half back positions, quick, strong, good in the air, tight markers, good passing ability, they had it all and that was where Galway got there belief. A midfield pairing of Kevin Walsh & Seán Ó Domhnaill (now Galway selector) was full of ability and two strong pair of hands when catching the ball. An experienced Ja’ Fallon was center forward and could kick a score from anywhere, a true master of the kick who came from the same area of Frank Stockwell & Seán Purcell in the town of Tuam. A young energetic Michael Donnelan proved the inspiration for the year with his unbelivable runs and great score taking ability. Another young gun was Padraic Joyce who was in his 1st year senior and the came good as the season went on and is still around today. It was a team with a fine array of talent who deserved what they got in 1998 and a large number of them where back again in 2001 for the All Ireland success, (its second in 4 years).
Galway in the Connacht Final were at home in Tuam for a rain drenched day of football and it ended up as a draw, which was a fair result in my own opinion. Martin Mac made a fine save that day and its the one memory that sticks in ones mind. The Connacht final replay was fixed for Dr.Hyde Park on the Saturday evening, the sun was splitting the stones that evening in an entertaining game of football. An injury time free from Roscommon brought the game to extra time where the sides where exchanging scores, there was nothing in it until a Derek Thompson mis-hand pass ( Roscommon Gaolkepper) and Michael Donnelan latched onto the loose ball to put Galway 3 points up. The final whistle had gone, Galway had won the Connacht title, more belief and optimism was coming into the team and the supporters, we where on the way to Croke Park for an All Ireland semi final with Derry. Derry proved stiff opposition as they came through Ulster the hard way with victories over Monaghan, an ever improving Armagh team and Donegal in the final. Galway were expected to be up against it, but a magnificent display in Croke Park saw Galway run off winners by 5 points.
And so it was time for the biggest game in Galway football since 83, Galway where to play Kildare who saw off Kerry in the semi final by a point. Galway took to the field with a heros welcome from the Canal end where most of the fans were situated. Everything was set, the ball was thrown in and the game was on.. And after that my friends, is history..
Galway ran out winners by 4 points in the end and made sure that the cup was heading over the Shannon, a sea of maroon and white invaded Croke Park as the cup was presented to Galway’s captain Ray Silke.
The team that started on that fateful day, the 27th of September 1998 : (Martin McNamara,Tomas Meehan,Gary Fahey,Tomas Mannion,Ray Silke(Capt.),John Divilly,Seán Óg De Paor,Sean O’Domhnaill,Kevin Walsh,Michael Donnellan,Ja Fallon,Shay Walsh,Derek Savage,Pádraic Joyce,Niall Finnegan)
As all you Galway supports may know by now, there is a collector’s item called ”A Year Til Sunday”, which indelves us deeply into the Galway senior football setup in 1998, this unique video brings us into the dressing room before the matches, the training, the interviews and much more. If you dont already have it id encourage you get a copy of it as it is a great watch. It can be bought here if anyone of ye is interested