WHEN ANTHONY CUNNINGHAM took the managerial reins of the Galway senior hurlers at the start of the 2012 season, he shook up his squad.
In an effort to alter Galway’s hurling fortunes, the new boss plotted a different course. A succession of disappointing championship exits preceded a 2012 campaign where Galway rejoined the elite.
Their efforts to land the Liam McCarthy Cup were ultimately thwarted in September with by Kilkenny after a replay.
Yet it had been a year of progress where Cunningham’s investment of faith in youth had paid a rich dividend.
One of the gems he had unearthed was Niall Donoghue. The defender had been briefly involved with the Galway senior side in 2011 – coming on as a substitute in a league loss to Tipperary that April – but it was 2012 where he emerged strongly.
A triumph in September 2011 was used by Donoghue as a springboard. That night in Thurles saw Donoghue anchor a Galway team from full-back that won the Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling final against Dublin.
It capped a deserved honour for Donoghue after an underage career that had featured some splendid defensive showings. He had displayed persistence after losing out to Kilkenny in the 2008 All-Ireland final with the Galway minors and to Tipperary in the 2010 All-Ireland decider with the Galway U21’s.
And that U21 success paved the way for Donoghue to announce himself on the senior stage in 2012. His talent was underlined by his versatility as he secured a spot in the half-back line.
As Galway plotted a route through the summer, Donoghue was to the fore in their defensive effort as he excelled in the marvellous wins over Kilkenny in the Leinster final and Cork at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.
Donoghue (right) celebrates Galway’s 2012 Leinster final win with Joe Canning and Iarla Tannian
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Defeat may have been Galway’s lot in September but they contributed richly to their two encounters with Kilkenny and seriously challenged Brian Cody’s side.
The ability of Galway’s youngsters to rise to the occasion was encapsulated by Donoghue. One moment in the drawn game stood out. Galway were ahead by six points in the first-half and flying when Donoghue sought to complement his defensive duties.
Superb stick work in a tight space by Andy Smith, Damien Hayes and Cyril Donnellan saw them pieced together an intricate move. It fell to Donoghue finish it off and he did so by pointing from distance in Croke Park.
His presence on the biggest hurling stage was a cause for celebration for his club. Kilbeacanty are an intermediate hurling club based in South Galway and their club pitch is located just outside the town of Gort.
Big local senior clubs like Gort, St Thomas and Loughrea are in proximity to Kilbeacanty but in Donoghue they had produced a hurling star of their own who had put them on the map.
With his 23rd birthday approaching tomorrow, his hurling career was still loaded with potential but sadly it has now been cut short.
His tragic passing last night has shocked the GAA community with tributes pouring in.
“Niall’s passing is deeply distressing for everyone associated with him and we would urge anyone suffering distress to ensure that they seek help”, said an official statement from the Gaelic Player’s Association.
GAA President Liam O’Neill spoke of his ‘great regret’ at hearing of the news and described Donoghue as ‘a promising hurler with a bright future’.
Our sympathies to his family and friends at this time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.