Fergal Healy relishing Galway role
By Cian O’Connell
“The most important thing for us - myself and the lads in the management - is development,” says Galway minor hurling manager Fergal Healy.
Few are better placed to assess the relevance of nurturing talent. Healy was a player when Galway minor teams were really beginning to stir on the national stage, earning an All-Ireland medal in 1994.
Galway’s record in the grade is remarkable, since 1992 the maroon and white outfit have won 13 titles, while losing nine finals, but Healy highlights the relevance of preparing hurlers for the future. “It is nice to pick up a bit of silverware here and there, but ultimately I wouldn't judge the season on that by any means,” Healy adds.
“Ultimately we are trying to get them ready to make the next step - physically and from a hurling point of view. The more of them that make that step up to U20 and then on to senior, that is a better gauge of the success of an underage team more so than judging the amount of cups they win.”
Plenty has changed in the last couple of decades, but Healy is hopeful that the pathway being implemented in Galway at the moment will enable players to flourish for the seniors.
“It is definitely a lot better than when we were playing,” Healy replies. “It has changed hugely. You would love to be that age again, playing in the current environment, having all of these games.
“Your ratio of games to training sessions has changed dramatically compared to what it used to be once upon a time. That can only be good for them.
“With the U20s now having a round robin of games, you'd hope that the experience of playing all of these games and preparing for these games will get them ready as senior players a little bit sooner than what has been the case over the last five or six years.”
The collaboration between the Galway Academy teams, Coaching & Games department, and minor set-up is critical too.
Galway, managed by Kenneth Burke, reached the Celtic Challenge final too so emerging players are being monitored and well catered for.
“With the Celtic Challenge, Kenneth and I would have been talking a lot,” Healy explains. “Obviously those guys are still on the S&C programme with the guys in the minor panel too.
“We'd have relationships then with Niall Canavan with the U16s and Gordon Duane with the U15s, and Dennis Carr (Galway GAA Coaching and Games Manager) there, so we are trying to link it all together.
“Ultimately when we are trying to prepare a squad at the end of last year the first port of call I'd have would be Niall, the lads you'd be getting over from him, and then with Gordon, who would have this year's U16s as 15 year olds last year.
“There is huge connectivity between myself, Kenneth, Gordon, and Niall constantly. We'd be talking regularly, they'd be sounding me out about stuff or I would be asking them questions about lads coming through or different lads we might release for games.
“There is a good relationship and hopefully all of that can help. It is important to have that bit of connectivity.”
Sunday’s Electric Ireland MHC decider against a highly regarded Clare is the next assignment, but Healy has relished the fact that Galway competed in Leinster in 2023.
“It has been brilliant really, it is only right,” Healy says. “Why shouldn't we be treated the same as Kilkenny, Clare, Cork, Tipp, and all of these other counties?
“Just because we happen to be located in Connacht, I think it was a bit unfair. This will be our seventh match coming up, I think the weekend just gone last year was our first game in the round robin against Clare. So that is a huge change in 12 months.”
Throughout the years Healy has contributed handsomely to the Craughwell and Galway hurling cause. Enjoyment, though, is always derived from trying to assist players. “That is why we do it - all of us in the management,” Healy replies.
“Most of us have played so it is nice to give a little bit back, to see can you help these guys to give them some base for going forward. We enjoy the coaching too. That is always good.
“When you get them at this young age, it is very easy. They are like sponges really. Any instructions from myself or the management, they are taking it on board and they seem to be playing with a bit of freedom and enjoying themselves which is important.
"If they are enjoying themselves, they will usually play better. That has been the case so far this year.”
Healy acknowledges the contribution of a widely respected management set-up sprinkled with former Galway players, who are making a coaching impact. James Skehill and Joe Canning, both recently retired from senior inter-county hurling, are involved.
“Padraig Duddy is the head coach for the want of a better word, he is a Headford man, who I met down in UL in college, I suppose 25 years ago or so now, he is an excellent coach,” Healy says.
“Eamon Cleary from Sarsfields, Mark Kerins, and then you have Joe and James Skehill, who bring a huge amount of recent experience.
“They'd be the guys most well known to the boys - the players. There is a nice mix of experience and guys learning their trade a bit, for Joe and James it is a great opportunity for them to get their teeth stuck into a nice set-up with a nice age group to start for sure.”
That willingness to give something back matters deeply to Healy, who remains passionate about Galway hurling.