Ken Hogan: 'It was a huge rivalry'
By John Harrington
Almost 30 years have passed since the red-hot Galway-Tipperary hurling rivalry of the late eighties was first ignited by the 1987 All-Ireland Semi-Final.
Time is a great healer, and the raw wounds of enmity that opened between the two counties over the course of the following years are now faded scars.
Bragging rights are still very much coveted, but the banter between the Tipperary and Galway members of Portumna Golf club over the course of the next couple of days will be of a good-natured variety.
Ken Hogan was Tipperary’s renowned goalkeeper back when the counties were at one another’s throats in the late ‘80s.
Hailing from the Tipperary border parish of Lorrha-Dorrha on the other side of the bridge into Portumna, he inhabited Ground Zero as far as the rivalry between the two counties was concerned.
The battle-lines were very visibly drawn back then, but he doesn’t think the same enmity will ever exist again between the hurling communities of both counties.
“I used to go out and cut the grass and I could nearly be driven over because I was living on the main Birr-Portumna road at one stage at that time,” he chuckles.
“Nowadays you could be out there all day because people are always stopping or looking to come in for a cup of coffee. Old rivals and fellas I would have played against. You'd have the likes of Cyril Farrell passing by and coming in and giving his tuppence ha'penny.
“It was a huge rivalry at that time, but it'll probably never be like that again because back then it was a knock-out championship and winner takes all.
“We were trying to win our first All-Ireland, they were trying to win two-in-a-row and three in a row. So there was a huge rivalry there because of the circumstances that went with it.
“I don't think those circumstances will ever arise again. But, having said that, there is still a keen rivalry there and Galway will be all out to test that scenario on Sunday.”
An interesting sub-plot to Sunday’s match is the fact that Galway have something of an inside-track on this Tipperary team.
Their manager Micheál Donoghue was previously a member of the Tipperary backroom when Eamon O’Shea was manager, and late last year he pulled off something of a coup by persuading highly rated Tipperary S&C coach, Lukasz Kirszenstein, to jump ship and join his Galway set-up.
“Yes, and all messages coming back from Galway are that they're very impressed with Lukasz as well,” says Hogan, himself a former manager of the TIpperary senior hurling.
“So Micheál has taken a bit of our inside work from us from that point of view.
“I'd be impressed by Micheál, he's an astute manager. He won an All-Ireland club with Clarinbridge from nowhere.
“Very smart on the line, and has two very good guys with him in Franny Forde and Noel Larkin who I'd be very familiar with in coaching circles as well.
“I think they've built a good team together, they have put a very strong and physical team together. Their half-back line are very strong physically and their half-forwards are full of six footers as well.
“So, from that point of view, I think Galway with the amount of talent they have coming through at minor and U-21 level it's bound to explode at some stage and I think Micheal has a good handle on it.
“But Tipp are the All-Ireland champions and they're a very good, honest side. Really reminiscent of (team-manager) Mick Ryan when he played himself, honest to goodness and make the ball do the work.
“Most importantly, they have a group of players with great trust in each other and that's a testament to the management too.
“No-one could ever say Tip are taking anything for granted at any stage because of the fact that they're so level-headed and work so hard to achieve their goals.”
There were no prisoners taken when Galway and Tipperary met in the 1980s, and Hogan is predicting a physical encounter when the two counties clash in Sunday’s League Final.
“This is a big game for both sides, but I think particularly for Galway,” he says. “They'll be smarting from being beaten by a point last year and with Tipp then going on to beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Final.
“From that perspective I think it'll mean an awful lot to Galway if they win it. They have the most to lose in a way.
“Tipp and Galway always takes on a life of its own, but I think the physical challenge this weekend will be something else.
“I think it'll be a tough, physical battle, particularly on a pitch like the Gaelic Grounds. It's not the summer yet, the ball is not bouncing as well as it should yet.
“I think, realistically, this is going to be a great game and I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's whoever hits form on the day, it's that close between them.
“The aggregate score is nil between them at the moment because Galway won by a point in '15 and we won by a point last-year. So from that point of view there's very little between the teams.”
In a game of fine margins, perhaps a man from Hogan’s own club might make the vital difference.
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher is back in the Tipperary panel after recently returning from a six month tour of duty with the Irish Army in Syria, and Hogan, who manages him at club level, reckons he’s ready and willing to answer the call if required on Sunday.
“He came back in great nick, he played 45 minutes for us in a League game a couple of weeks ago against Roscrea,” says Hogan.
“Bonner is a guy who keeps himself very well, he's a non-drinker and is very proud of his fitness.
“He's mad to get back into action now. Obviously the hurling end of things, he's been trying to catch up in the past couple of weeks.
“But with the Seamie Callanan injury he might have a chance of getting into the 26 and getting maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Would he be a huge plus.
“You've got to look to the championship as well, and it might be coming a little bit too soon for Bonner. Having said that, if we need him for 10 or 15 minutes there's no man more willing to do it.”