DAMIEN HAYES HAS delivered a moving tribute to his former Galway hurling teammate Niall Donohue, describing the young Kilbeacanty man’s death as ‘an unbelievable shock’ that he never envisaged.
Donohue tragically took his own life last October and Hayes has spoken out for the first time about how the loss shocked the hurling community in the county.
“It was an unbelievable tragedy. I remember being told at a club training session on the Friday and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t see it coming for Niall. I always thought he was unbelievably happy and always messing.
“It was an unbelievable shock. It’s very, very sad. He was an absolutely lovely fella and a real character. He was really bubbly with great one-liners and just a great laugh. It’s an awful loss to be honest.”
Hayes and Donohue both lined out together on the Galway team that reached the 2012 All-Ireland final. Last season neither was able to grab a starting place and Hayes revealed they forged a closer relationship as a result.
“I had got to know him better in 2013 than I had in 2012 because neither of the two of us could seem to get on the team.
“So when the team would be having their talk in one room in Croke Park before a match you’d be in the other room. I got chatting to him better then and it’s just an unbelievable tragedy.”
Niall Donohue (right) celebrates Galway’s 2012 Leinster final win
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Hayes will be in action for Portumna in their upcoming AIB All-Ireland senior hurling club semi-final. Their passage to that stage was secured when they won the Galway final against Loughrea last October, victory arriving the day after Donohue’s funeral. Hayes revealed it was a hugely difficult period.
“The match was meant to be played on the Sunday and next of all it wasn’t. We were burying Niall, Lord have mercy on him, and we were doing a guard of honour. It was a long, hard day. We were all in Kilbeacanty together at 12 o’clock and I didn’t return home until seven o’clock when it was all over.
“I remember when we laid Niall to rest, I happened to be standing beside a man who said – ‘God, Damien, it won’t be easy to hurl tomorrow’. You were going into a county final after burying one of your team-mates, one of your county colleagues and one of your friends.
“It was difficult. You had your minute’s silence and you said your prayer to him before the match. You just had to get on with it, as simple as that, but it wasn’t easy.”
Hayes is currently focused on club commitments but he will link up with the Galway panel again when that campaign concludes. The loss of Donohue will be on their minds.
“Anthony (Cunningham) had a meeting with us and we only had a small brief chat about it just to say hopefully that this might spur us on a little bit.
“When you go back in, it’ll still be hard. We all returned to Kilbeacanty for Niall’s month’s mind. I’ve spoken to his dad Francie and I’ve spoken to his brother as well. It’s not easy times.”