2001 is one of those years, unlike 1998, where people thought Galway had a major chance of winning the All Ireland for the 2nd time in 4 years. A time when the Celtic Tiger was still booming, the fancy life styles where all the go, a new year for the GAA brought about new change, with the introduction of the qualifiers. The qualifiers proved to be very popular that year and it was thanks to the qualifiers that Galway won the All Ireland in 2001, Galway had the honour to be the 1st ever team to win the All Ireland after going through the qualifiers. It seems the thing to do now a days, lose in the province, come along and win the All Ireland after a shaky start. Kerry and Tyrone are the most recent team to achieve such feat.
Galway came back off the 2000 All Ireland series after losing the Kerry after a replay in the All Ireland Final. The time had come for players such as Niall Finnigan, Ray Silke and Martin McNamara to give way on their inter-county careers, John O’Mahoney was still in charge of Galway and was doing an exceptional job, guiding the county to 2 all Ireland finals, coming into 2001. The backbone of the 98′ team was there however, Gary Fahey, Tomas Mannion, Sean Og De Paor, Kevin Walsh, Michael Donnellan & Padraic Joyce, all exceptionally good players who had proved there worth in the past. The captain at the start of the year was Michael Comer, who was later succeeded by Gary Fahey. The year 2001 there was many fine team scattered around the country, Cork, Kerry,Derry, Tyrone, an ever improving Westmeath team (who had the beating of Meath twice in 2001), Dublin, Meath and ‘back whest’ there was Roscommon, Mayo and Sligo who were the surprise package of 2001. They lost to Mayo in Connacht by a point, went on and beat Kildare in the qualifiers and then lost to Dublin in Croke Park on a day they never really got going.
Galways in the National League in 2001 lost to Mayo by a point in the final in a cracking match, although there was no goals, 25 points were exchanged during the exciting match which saw the Cup going over the border to Mayo that year. Galway set out there stall early in the championship against Leitrim in Tuam Stadium, a game of which produced 6 goals and 29 points, Galway scoring an impressive tally of 3-24 against a hapless Leitrim team that day. On we marched against Roscommon in the Connacht semi final two weeks later where Galway where deservedly beating by a strong Roscommon team by 4 points, the few memory’s of the day is Frankie Dolans brilliant goal for Roscommon and John Donnellan fantastic long distances point. Roscommon went on to win the Connacht title against Mayo where Roscommon scored a last-minute goal to snatch victory against Mayo in one of those all time great finals. On another year Galway would have been out of the championship, but with the new system in place, Galway marched right into the qualifiers to play Wicklow in Aughrim.
A game which failed to ignite into a good game of football, but Galway did the business and ended up winning by 9 points against a spirited Wicklow outfit 3-12 to 1-9. Next up for the tribesmen was a trip to Croke Park to play Armagh who had dispatched of Monaghan in the previous qualifying round. Points were exchanged during the match and it was nip and tuck, until the dying moments when Paul Clancy hit a monster score to put Galway into the lead by a point and to register their place in the next round. Armagh as we know came back the following year to win the All Ireland so it proves the significance of the result that day. Next in line was a Cork team with dangerous forwards such as Colin Corkery & Finnan Murray. Galway started the game at a hectic pace and raced into a 7 points to no score lead. Sean óg De Paor then showed his soccer skills to score a great goal which set the inspiration for Galway. Cork came back into the game however but there efforts where cut short and Galway eventually ran out winners on a storyline of 1-14 to 1-10. We awaited an All Ireland quatre final, the draw was made and yes you guessed it we got Roscommon who had beat us in the Championship a month earlier.
The match was set for Castlebar and a capacity crowd was in place, Roscommon had every right to feel they had a chance of making it to the All Ireland semi final, they had won the Connacht final, they had bet Galway before, what could possibly stop them?. The answer was a Galway team that played some great football that day, Roscommon never got going, but they never really had the chance. Roscommon only scored 1 point in the 1st half which tells its own story really. They got it going slightly in the second half but Galway came back strong. Padraic Joyce and once again Michael Donnellan where the stars on the day as Galway ran out winners 14 points to 1-5.
On Galway marched into an All Ireland semi final against Derry in a match where it went one way and then the other. It looked like a Derry victory for much of the game but Galways big match experience showed as in the final few minutes Matthew Clancy scored a brilliant goal in an attack which started at corner back. Galway went on from there to win the match and they where now in an All Ireland Final against the favourites Meath. Meath where ruthless, strong, had great forwards, never gave up and had match winners in their side. It must be noted that going into the final Meath had bet Kerry in the All Ireland semi final, a Meath performance that day regarded as the best ever seen in Croke Park for a long time, they outclassed Kerry in every sector and where rightly tagged as favourites going into the final.
23rd of September 2001, All Ireland final day, we expected a close, hard-fought game and that is what we got. It was 6 points a piece at half time, there was nothing in it. The second half began and Galway just blew Meath out of the water. Galway scored 11 points in the second half while Meath only scored 2, it was a master class display from Galway and in particular Padraic Joyce who scored 10 points. The final whistle blew, Galway where All Ireland Champions for 2001, the cup was going back west again, its second visit in 4 years.
On the All Star team of 2001, Galway had 6 representatives, Kieran Fitzgerald, Declan Meehan, Sean Og de Paor, Kevin Walsh, Michael Meehan & Padraic Joyce.