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Flashback: 2001 All Ireland Club SHC Final: Athenry v Graigue-Ballycallan

By Cian O’Connell

The planning and plotting really started at the end of 1995 when PJ Molloy added Pat Nally to his Athenry backroom team.

What unfolded during the next decade was a story of success and silverware. Nally was initially the trainer before succeeding Molloy, but the Athenry triumphs continued.

In the 2001 AIB All Ireland Club Final Athenry were under duress late on against Graigue-Ballycallan.

Adrian Ronan and Eddie Brennan were scoring nicely, questions were being posed by the Kilkenny and Leinster standard bearers.

Athenry, though, had the craft to find a way to survive before thriving in extra-time. “We worked awfully hard,” Nally explains.

“First and foremost when we came in, PJ and myself put our heads together because we wanted to get some place with a hill in it. We got this hill just outside the town of Athenry. It was the greatest move of all time.

“There was a 45 degree 50 yards long, that is how we used to sprint in the muck and dirt of January when we would start back.

“We'd always be back around the first of January with no drink and we would train hard to get ready for the club All Irelands. It was tough going, but the boys enjoyed it.”

It was an examination of both body and mind, but a couple of decades later Nally remains adamant about the value of those punishing sessions.

Eugene Cloonan scored 1-11 for Athenry in the 2001 AIB All Ireland Club Hurling Final against Graigue-Ballycallan at Croke Park.
Eugene Cloonan scored 1-11 for Athenry in the 2001 AIB All Ireland Club Hurling Final against Graigue-Ballycallan at Croke Park.

“I used to always say to our lads, the first thing forget about hurling, we have to get fit,” Nally says. “When we get fit we will enjoy hurling. That is exactly what happened. It worked to a tee for us for the three All Irelands.”

Nally’s own sporting adventure is interesting. A player with the widely regarded Garrymore outfit that reached the 1982 All Ireland Club Football Final, Nally moved to Galway in 1984.

“The way I got involved, PJ Molloy was asked by the club to take over at the end of '95,” Nally remarks. “He said he would and he had won three minors in a row.

“He was pulling his hair out about who he would bring in as a trainer, he came to me and I said I'd give it a shot. I spent seven years at it, we won five County cups and we won three club All Irelands. It wasn't too bad.”

Following the switch from Mayo was hurling always on Nally’s agenda? “I always had a fierce interest in the GAA, be it hurling or football,” Nally responds.

“When I arrived here I used to enjoy the hurling. Even when the county team was training in Kenny Park you'd always go up watching.

“In Cyril Farrell's time you'd be watching this, that, and the other. You'd be watching how lads were performing. Naturally enough when Athenry were playing Championship you'd be looking too. You'd be admiring and giving out and giving more out.

“I came here in 1984. We played in an All Ireland final in '82, we were a small rural club. We neither had a church or a shop, they slaughtered us below in Ennis. To get to the club final we beat Ballinberry above in Bellaghy by a point, Billy Fitzpatrick got a great point for us in the end.”

From the talk in the town, Nally knew something was stirring in Athenry; potential existed and hope was attached to a formidable crop of players.

Pat Nally speaks to the Athenry players before the start of extra-time.
Pat Nally speaks to the Athenry players before the start of extra-time.

“Of course, the football team I played with had all of the similar traits,” Nally admits. “It is amazing, Gaelic Football and hurling are both the same when it comes to club.

“There are some great families here, the same thing at home too. One followed the other really. You knew the system, okay the skills were different, the hurling and football was slightly different. You'd be using the stick quite a bit.

“I took over from PJ. After a couple of weeks doing the training you could come up with skills. It was easy enough pick up a skill using the hands and the physical stuff too at the same time. It brought them on.”

The drive and desire Athenry repeatedly showed in demanding situations always struck Nally, who still reflects with pride on the 1998 Galway Intermediate Championship Final win over Craughwell.

Athenry’s second team on that occasion included David Donoghue, who nailed 1-3 against Graigue-Ballycallan, while Shane Donoghue and Diarmuid Burns also featured.

“We created one other record that I don't think ever will be beaten in Galway,” Nally remarks. “In 1998 we won the Senior and Intermediate Championship in Galway.

“They will always carry two teams near the top here Senior and Intermediate or Junior A. We won the two of them in '98 and it was a great achievement.

"We had a great mix with the young lads, we beat Craughwell in the Intermediate final in Ballinasloe.”

Trophies were collected, memories made, and the third All Ireland victory cemented Athenry’s status amongst the greatest club teams of the lot with Nally occupying a vital role.

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