Family ties drive Damien Comer forward
By John Harrington
When Damien Comer ponders the path that brought him to the captaincy of the Galway footballers, all roads lead back to his late father John.
It was John who put a ball in his hands from an early age, and John who was his first footballing hero.
One of Damien’s most vivid childhood memories is the day he staged a one-boy pitch invasion as a four-year old when his father was playing for Glenamaddy in the 1998 club championship.
He climbed through the fence in Tuam stadium and made a bee-line for his father mid-match, seeing no reason why they couldn’t have a kick-about like they did most days in the back garden.
As his son grew from a boy into a man and made his way onto the Galway senior football team, John Comer was his biggest supporter, following him around the country to watch him play.
Sadly, John wasn’t around for his Damien’s biggest moment yet – when he lifted the JJ Nestor Cup after captaining the Galway footballers to Connacht Final victory over Roscommon.
John passed away in January 2017 from cancer, but though he’s gone, he’ll never be forgotten by his nearest and dearest.
Damien lifted the JJ Nestor Cup on Father’s Day, and that evening dedicated the moment to his late father with an emotional tweet (see below).
When he spoke this week at the launch of the All-Ireland Football Championship in Inis Mór, Comer admitted he would have loved nothing more than for his father to witness the moment he lifted the Cup.
“Dad passed away last January 12 months, it's sad,” said Comer. “He would have been a big influence on my footballing career.
“It's nice he was around for the first Connacht title and the U-21 All-Ireland that we won. It would have been nice to have him there the last day, I'm sure he would have been proud of it.
“He would have been a big influence and probably why I'm so involved.
He trained us as well at underage for a while as well. U-10, U-12, U-14, and that.
“Yeah, he would have been a big influence on my career.”
John Comer wasn’t there to witness the moment, but Damien’s mother Marie, brothers Jonathan, and sister Nicola were all just a few feet away when he lifted the JJ Nestor Cup.
The sight of Comer celebrating with one or more family members after a big win with Galway is a common one, and it’s clear that football is a glue that bonds them all together, perhaps all the more so now that John is no longer around.
“All of them get great enjoyment from it and I suppose it's a distraction for them as well anything else,” said Comer.
“They get out and enjoy going to the games and obviously there are emotional times after the games.
“That all becomes part of it. You just try to make them as proud as you can by doing the right thing and doing good things for Galway football.”
Comer has given his family plenty of reasons to be proud in recent weeks and months.
At the age of 24 he’s one of the youngest inter-county captains in the country, but the responsibility rests lightly on his broad shoulders.
Interviews with Galway footballers invariably veer towards just how much of a positive influence Comer has on them and their team-mates, with the likes of Shane Walsh and Eoghan Kerin admitting that the manner in which he has embraced a leadership role at a relatively young age has encouraged his peers within the panel to also shoulder more responsibility.
“Yeah, Shane (Walsh) said at the start of the year that it's nice to see someone his own age and someone he'd be good friends with being captain,” said Comer.
“For me it's just about trying to set standards and trying to drive on things as much as possible. I find that if I play to the best of my ability, then lads can row in behind that.
“Or if I set standards then lads will row in behind them. And they have, in fairness. The lads are good, in fairness.
“They know what to do and have put in serious effort this year and the last few years to get to where they are and to bring Galway football back up to where it should be.”
Comer is a gregarious and good-spirited sort of guy, so it’s easy to imagine he has a positive influence on this team-mates off the pitch.
And when he’s on it, his inspirational qualities are plain for all to see.
His ability to win hard ball, drive at defences with explosive power, and finish with devastating precision has made him one of the most spectacular forwards in the country to watch.
When the ball comes his way there’s now an audible hum of anticipation in the stadium, and the furious drive he plays with seems to have a ripple effect that energises his team-mates.
“Probably, yeah,” said Comer. “I suppose you can hear the build-up, there's a sense of excitement when you get the ball.
“Obviously every time you get the ball you try to do something positive with it, whether it's taking on your man, kicking a score, going for goal or whatever it is.
“No, it's good. There's a few key players around the pitch like that. I think Sean Andy O'Ceallaigh is the same when he comes out with the ball, he'd be a crowd favourite.
“We've got leaders all over the pitch and that's what I've been trying to drive. It shouldn't be down to one man in any team to lead things.
“We've got plenty of experience there with Gareth Bradshaw at centre-back, Paul Conroy at midfield.
“They're around the blocks for many years and would be driving it as much as I would be and trying to get lads to lead their own line, that's the main thing.”
Damien Comer is leading by example and driving Galway football forward.
His father John would be very proud.