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Pete Finnerty: 'I think this is the year'

Thursday, September 03, 2015

By Arthur Sullivan

They have to just look at each other and say 'no more defeats, no more defeats'. That can be even stronger than a desire to win. A focus and an awareness of how bad it is to lose.
Pete Finnerty

Former Galway hurler Pete Finnerty, a member of Galway's last two All-Ireland winning teams in 1987 and 1988, firmly believes that his native county are in a better position to win the All-Ireland final than they were back in 2012.

Galway lost to Kilkenny after a replay in the decider three years ago, and on Sunday the two sides meet again in the final at Croke Park, with both managers from the 2012 finals still in place.

Finnerty, an All Star in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990, will take a Legends Tour at Croke Park this Saturday, and he believes the key to Galway's progress over the last three years has been up front, where he believes they are a totally different force when compared with 2012.

"In attack we have six scoring forwards and we didn't have that back in 2012," the Mullagh native told GAA.ie ahead of the final.

"The majority of the work was being left to Joe (Canning) back then. We have two corner forwards that scored 10 points between them the last day. We have two men in the forward line that are six foot four. I think we have three men that are six foot two.

"That's a huge forward line but we have to use our physical height and strength if we're going to beat Kilkenny. We have to win aerial possession and win primary possession from our own puck-outs. But our worry is that on the other side, Kilkenny have fantastic forwards as well. And if TJ Reid and Hogan and Larkin get going, they can beat any team on their own.

"But Anthony (Cunningham) is there four or five years, he's familiar with playing Kilkenny because he has played them four or five times in championship and he has to have his homework done so when they change or switch or whatever it is, we have to be able to move or counteract that as quickly as possible.

"Physically we're stronger and we're better, we have found five or six great skilful, powerful young hurlers and the advantage we have is we found them in the forwards because that's what wins All-Irelands. Backs can win matches but forwards win All-Irelands."

Reflecting on 2012, when Galway blitzed Kilkenny in the Leinster final before a drawn All-Ireland final and a Kilkenny victory in the replay, Finnerty gives particular credit to the now retired Henry Shefflin for the manner in which he kept Kilkenny in the drawn game, highlighting one particular incident that sticks out in his mind.

"In the drawn game, we probably still were the better team and we should have won it," said Finnerty. "I'd give huge credit to one man in particular and that's Henry Shefflin. There was one particular time when they were four points down in the second half, we got a sideline ball and I think it might have been (David) Collins or one of the lads that was taking it.

Pete Finnerty being honoured as part of the 1987 jubilee team at the 2012 All-Ireland final

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"The ball was 10 yards away from Collins and he was sauntering over to collect it. And Henry ran over, picked the ball up, laid it down and kind of rushed him to take it because Kilkenny were behind and time was running out. That was the man who really turned it around.

"The second day then, we had no answer for them. They had learned more than we had learned, they got the match ups spot on and with three different positional switches, and we weren't able for them, we weren't physically strong enough. This year we are bigger, we are stronger."

Finnerty believes this is a golden opportunity for Galway to end a run of 27 years without a senior title, stretching back to the 1988 final against Tipperary, when Finnerty lined out at right wing back.

"I think Galway have a great chance on Sunday but they only have a chance if they address the full-back line and if they play with the same passion and determination and single-mindedness as they did against Tipperary and they'll still need a bit of luck to win it because Kilkenny will always bring their 'A' game to Croke Park."

Finnerty is full of admiration for what Brian Cody has achieved with Kilkenny, and says it's up to other counties, such as Galway, to stop their seemingly endless domination of hurling, with resentment of Kilkenny's success a futile business.

"They always peak for the first Sunday in September," he said. "Cody is a master at being able to manipulate players to get the best out of them and even holding some players in reserve who we might not even see until Sunday. So we know Kilkenny are going to bring their 'A' game every year but it's up to us in Galway this year to be able to match them and better them.

"Maybe somebody else can then do it next year because I think we need a bigger spread of All-Ireland titles. You can't blame Kilkenny for that though, because they have deserved every single one of them."

Finnerty was a teenager looking on when Galway ended a wait of 57 years without an All-Ireland title in 1980 and he experienced the joy of bringing the Liam MacCarthy Cup to Connacht in 1987 and 1988. He says it would mean "an incredible amount to Galway" if they could win on Sunday.

Pete Finnerty (centre) celebrates the 1988 All-Ireland final victory, Anthony Cunningham is last on the right

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"Success does breed success and 27 years without winning it - we've won probably more minor, U21 and club titles than any other county in that time - we promise so much on big days and flatter to deceive. For the hurling area, it would be just such a lift after all the disappointment.

"It would eradicate all of that, it would give such a lift to the underage and even for the lads, they have taken an incredible amount of stick over the last two or three years and for them, the effort they have put in would be next to professional for the last four or five years between diet and strength and conditioning, meetings, training. The amount of work that goes into the game now is just unbelievable."

Finnerty experienced All-Ireland final defeat with Galway in 1985 and 1986, and joined with the two defeats he suffered on All-Ireland final day as a minor, it meant he had suffered four All-Ireland final day defeats before finally reaching the top in 1987. He says this experience - like that suffered by many of the current Galway team in 2012 - is vital in being able to ultimately cross the line.

"Four All-Ireland final days I stood in Croke Park watching someone else getting a cup," he remembered. "I remember in 1987 I had a fear of losing that was far greater than a desire to win. I just couldn't go across the Shannon again without a cup and to bring something back to my family.

"That hatred of losing was nearly as strong as the desire to win. I think that will stand the lads in good stead on Sunday. They have to have felt the hurt of winning a Leinster and then losing an All-Ireland later on. Then the last two seasons of disappointment, they have to feel it and really feel it.

"They have to just look at each other and say 'no more defeats, no more defeats'. That can be even stronger than a desire to win. A focus and an awareness of how bad it is to lose."

Pete Finnerty is just one year older than Anthony Cunningham and he played with him at minor, U21 and senior level for Galway for more than 10 years in total. He is full of praise for his former teammate and he says Cunningham deserves huge credit, not only for his achievements, but for the amount of time he has devoted to Galway hurling.

"Don't fool yourself for a minute, there's very little reward out of it, because if you don't get it right, you don't get anything back," he said. "It's a big sacrifice to take those years out of your life and your families' lives. There's a feeling as well that Anthony is going to be the next one to manage an All-Ireland senior and I think this is the year. That feeling is genuine."

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Pete Finnerty will take a Legends Tour at Croke Park this Saturday at 12.30pm. Booking is essential so click here for ticket information. All Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tours include a trip to the GAA Museum, which is home to many exclusive exhibits, including the official GAA Hall of Fame.




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