Fenway journey comes full circle for Galway hurlers
By John Harrington
As the Galway hurlers prepare to return to Boston for another Fenway Classic on November 19, their last trip to the City has taken on greater significance with the passing of time.
When they played Dublin at Fenway Park in that inaugural classic on November 21, 2015, they travelled to Boston under a cloud.
A week previously Anthony Cunningham had stepped down as team manager after a lengthy stand-off that followed the players issuing a vote of no confidence in him.
The players shipped a lot of criticism in Galway for the revolt, but considering this year’s Allianz League, Leinster Championship, and All-Ireland Championship successes under Cunningham's successor Micheál Donoghue, it’s safe to say the stance they took back then has been justified.
And when Johnny Coen casts his mind back on that trip to Boston in 2015 and the pressure the players were under at the time, the experience of beating Dublin that day in front of a raucous Fenway Park seems like an important milestone in their journey.
“It could have been,” he said. When you look back on it alright things were bad, I suppose.
“We had lost the All-Ireland in 2015 and we needed something to kick-start us again. We've had a fairly good season since, so it probably started something alright.
“Prior to it we had won nothing as a team. We were on the rack a bit and it was a good trip really that unified us and got us together again.
“Even after the match some people were giving out saying we were celebrating too much. But it was funny, the people over in Boston really got into it, and the more they go into it the more we got into it as well."
They’ll enjoy the trip to Boston this year all the more because they’re going there as champions.
The warm glow of all they achieved this year has yet to subside, and the sensation of being All-Ireland champions is even more special than Coen could have hoped for.
“We're the League, Leinster, and All-Ireland champions, the more people say it, it still brings a smile to your face,” he says.
“You dream about winning an All-Ireland and that everything will be class, but it was just better than we ever really thought it could be to be honest with you.
“We're enjoying the All-Ireland status and we're trying to throw the Cup around to everyone and make sure everyone gets their hands on it because there are so many people in Galway who didn't actually see the Cup before.
“We're going around with the trophy and the first thing people say is, 'Jesus, it's very heavy'. They don't really know what to expect when they get it, and we're trying to bring it around as much as we can.'
The challenge for Galway in 2018 will be to hold onto the Liam MacCarthy Cup and emulate the great team of the eighties that won back to back All-Irelands in 1987 and 1988.
Coen is confident that whatever else may happen, it won’t be a lack of hunger that stops them from retaining their title.
“Someone has to win it every year so we'll see how it goes,” he says. “The desire will always be there, it will of course."
* Johnny Coen of Galway was in Croke Park to launch the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic and Irish Festival, also supported by Aer Lingus. On November 19, Dublin will take on Galway and Tipperary will face Clare in Fenway Park with the winning sides from both proceeding to a final for a chance to win the inaugural Players Champions Cup. This is the second time in three years that hurling, in the “Super 11’s” format, will be played at the venue. Tickets for the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic and Irish Festival can be purchased at www.redsox.com/hurling.