By Cian O'Connell

“It is massive, just the excitement,” Galway senior football captain Seán Kelly says about returning to a first All-Ireland SFC Final in 21 years.

Sunday's Croke Park clash against Kerry has captured the imagination in the west. Kelly, a games development officer for Galway GAA, knows how vital it is to ensure the next generation are inspired.

“I'm going around to Cúl Camps at the moment, just seeing the excitement on kids faces, even down in my own pitch, seeing lads out kicking footballs if I'm going down doing a gym session or whatever," he adds.

“It is great to see, it is something the county will benefit from. Hopefully we can keep reaching these high standards being in All-Ireland finals. It is where you want to be as a player.”

That three Kelly brothers – Seán, Paul, and Eoghan – are involved in the Galway set-up currently is another source of satisfaction. “We are busy enough, all going training together,” he laughs. “It is a bit of a family affair with three of us in there, but it is an honour for the family.”


Seán Kelly is a key performer for Galway.
Seán Kelly is a key performer for Galway.


Seán Kelly has flourished in the maroon and white jersey with 2022 providing plenty of medals and memories already. “Exactly, you could say that, winning is a habit, that is what we say,” he replies.

“It was great to get over the line in the Sigerson, we won the FBD at the start of the year, we lost the league final to Roscommon, we were disappointed. We kicked on from that, we had a Connacht Championship to prepare for one game at a time. We got over the line and then into the All Ireland series, we are looking forward to the next day.”

Sigerson and underage battles against a gifted crop of Kerry footballers linger in Kelly’s mind. The 2017 All Ireland U21 semi-final featuring several players from both counties, who will be involved this weekend illustrates the quality of that match reflecting back five years later.

“We have had a couple of games against them - 2017 we played them at U21, a lot of those young lads have come through,” Kelly says.

“We got over the line that day and obviously UCC too, a good few of the lads played them. It is not something we are scared of, you cannot be scared of someone else. We are looking forward to it, we know it is going to be a tough battle.”

By Cian O’Connell

In his school days as a gifted forward with Milltown, Galway, and St Jarlath’s College, John Concannon was used to dealing with expectation.

Significant scoring totals were delivered alongside an accomplished collection of footballers with silverware secured.

Now Concannon is occupying a central role in Galway’s re-emergence as a serious inter-county force again.

Pádraic Joyce and John Divilly were colleagues on some of those underage outfits, while An Cheathrú Rua’s Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and the highly regarded Cian O’Neill are also part of the mangerial ticket.

Galway’s initial objective in 2022 was to secure promotion from Division Two of the Allianz Football League. That was a challenge according to Concannon.

“All the Division Two games, we felt, were seriously pressurised games – maybe not against Division One teams obviously, but they were games we had to win," Concannon says.

"Because the Derrys and Roscommons were playing so well, we couldn’t afford to lose any game. So they learned in each of those, in difficult conditions.

Galway's 2022 Connacht Championship quarter-final triumph over Mayo in Castlebar offered an injection of hope and momentum. “That was a watershed moment for the group, to be able to hold on," Concannon says.

"Maybe we panicked in the last five minutes; we still got over the line. The Roscommon and then obviously the Armagh and Derry games, which were crucial, to beat two hard Ulster teams in Croke Park.

"So I think all of that, along with the experience and the age of the team, just growing year by year.”

In the Championship valuable lessons have been learned. “They are just a phenomenal group of lads,” Concannon adds.

“They are willing to learn every single day. We always knew they had it in them. The Mayo match was a learning experience, they came on from that, the Leitrim game.

“Roscommon, a brilliant performance, even though they had beaten us twice, the only two team to beat us this year.


Galway selector John Concannon and manager Pádraic Joyce.
Galway selector John Concannon and manager Pádraic Joyce.


“And then the Armagh and the Derry match and whatever they were saying that Galway couldn’t win a knock out match in Croke Park. But the lads have grown in stature since those games and hopefully that will bring them on to achieve the ultimate victory in the final.”

The fact that Galway have been able to integrate emerging players in a full schedule of league matches was crucial too. “We felt Covid affected us more than anyone else,” the Milltown clubman says. “But again, was that an excuse? It was awful at the time having to have meetings in marquees and out in the winter time football.

“We all know we had a great start to the league when Pádraic [Joyce] took over and everyone used Covid as an excuse, but I can't put my finger on what it was down to.

“The first full season back is so enjoyable. Using the full facilities in Loughgeorge, training properly, being able to go away for weekends and to get to know the guys properly. The first training camp we had in February and a weekend away all helped with the camaraderie.”

When Joyce was installed as Galway manager the Killererin man quickly signalled his intentions, highlighting that the maroon and white team should be competing for the Sam Maguire.

“I think when he said it, being honest, players were shocked at the time,” Concannon says. “Because he said it before there were any team meetings or before we met up with the group at all. As the weeks went on he kept instilling that in their mindset. He regularly says it.

“The biggest statement we can make is that any game we play, it is inside our dressing room whether we win it or not. We can win any game we play. We are that confident. Pádraic has instilled that in the lads and we still believe it and they believe it as well.”