THE PA ANNOUNCEMENT came shortly before throw-in at Croke Park last night.
“There is a change to the Kerry substitute list in your match programme. Number 17 Paul Galvin is replaced by Marcus Mangan”.
The 26,487 supporters present shrugged it off. Late changes to team line-up’s are now customary to GAA. The focus switched to the impending throw-in as Dublin and Kerry went toe to toe. Some fresh injury seemed the likely reason to explain Galvin’s absence.
After 14-man Dublin had hauled themselves off the floor to beat Kerry by a point, a bunch of journalists headed for the post-match interviews that are held underneath the Hogan Stand.
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice was first in. He expressed his disappointment with the loss, discontent with referee decisions and satisfaction at his younger players contribution. Then Radio Kerry reporter Gary O’Sullivan asked about that pre-match change.
“Eamonn, Paul Galvin wasn’t on the bench tonight. Was there any particular reason, was he injured?”
Fitzmaurice paused before responding.
“Eh, he wasn’t no…he’d be…Paul is finishing up, he’s retiring.”
After dropping that bombshell, Fitzmaurice expanded on his revelation. He talked about how Galvin being based in Dublin was incompatible with life as a Kerry player and the toll injuries had taken on the 34 year-old. “There’s no regrets on Paul’s part and there’s certainly no regrets on my part”, remarked the Kerry boss.
But there is plenty surprise. Retirements in GAA are not uncommon, the past week has seen Roscommon footballer Karol Mannion and Wexford hurler Eoin Quigley hang up their inter-county boots.
Galvin’s future had been under question since Kerry lost that epic All-Ireland semi-final to Dublin last year. If he had bowed out last winter, like his teammate Tomás Ó Sé, it would not have caused ripples of shock. But for the announcement to come on February 1st, moments after Kerry’s league opener against Dublin, is puzzling.
On January 1st, Fitzmaurice confirmed in an interview with The Irish Examiner that he would be able to call on the services of Galvin for the 2014 season. So what changed in the space of a month?
On January 12th, Galvin came on with 12 minutes remaining of Kerry’s McGrath Cup semi-final against Cork IT at the John Mitchels GAA grounds in Tralee. The following Sunday, he was introduced in the 50th minute of the McGrath Cup final against Cork in Mallow. Being exposed to pre-season action indicated that Galvin was slowly working his way back to a high pitch and getting ready for the campaign ahead.
In both games he came on in the half-back line, a role the Kerry management were keen to utilise him in this season. He forged his reputation as the greatest wing-forward of the modern generation but once upon a time, Galvin was wing-back on a UCC team that reached the All-Ireland club semi-final stage.
Paul Galvin in action for UCC in 2000.
Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Fitzmaurice was alongside him in that side that lost to Crossmaglen Rangers in February 2000. As a former teammate, as his Finuge clubmate and as his brother-in-law, the Kerry manager was perfectly placed to judge Galvin’s ability to adjust into a new role.
Last weekend Kerry played a challenge match against Dr Crokes, who are sharpening their preparations before their AIB All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Castlebar Mitchels. Galvin lined out in defence and it is understood that he endured a tough outing in the position.
Was that the catalyst for his decision? Possibly. Fitzmaurice revealed that himself and Galvin had thrashed it out a few times this week before the 2009 Footballer of the Year ultimately decided he had enough.
The timing may seem odd but it’s probable that the announcement was made after rather than before last night’s match so as not to overshadow Kerry’s preparations. All of the reasons Fitzmaurice outlined are valid.
Like any player, Galvin is best placed to judge when to make the retirement call. He committed to coming back for 2014 but the last month seems to have informed him that it was not working out. Best to bow out in early February then rather than to plough on when the mind and body are screaming halt.
Galvin leaves behind a decorated career that started to take full flight in 2004 and concludes with his status enshrined a decade later. Of course the Finuge firebrand was embroiled in a myriad of disciplinary sagas.
There was the fallout in late 2005 from an incident with a referee in a North Kerry championship game and a sending-off in 2006 after an altercation with an Armagh water carrier.
His 2008 season was infamously marred by slapping referee Paddy Russell’s notebook after being dismissed against Clare. While his frequent battles with Cork saw him involved in flashpoints with the likes of Noel O’Leary and Eoin Cadogan.
Paul Galvin with referee Paddy Russell in 2008
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
But there was also a litany of highlights and an acceptance that Galvin’s style of playing on the edge was the cornerstone of his game. He helped Kerry rehabilitate after their humbling All-Ireland semi-final loss to Tyrone in 2003 and was at the heart of the four Sam Maguire triumphs that followed in the following six seasons.
Some of his displays at wing-forward were extraordinary, not least in the summer of 2009 when he starred in a year that concluded with him being crowned the best footballer in the country. He won three Allstar awards as well and for all the spats he was embroiled in, there was a recurring pattern to the tributes that have flooded in from former teammates and opponents since last night.
After his 55 championship and 54 league appearances for Kerry, those in the Kingdom savoured the fact that they had soldiered with them. Around the country, there were those who bemoaned that he had not been in their ranks.
It looked like Galvin was going to go again for 2014 and be a central character once more. He chose not to but had achieved plenty before that. He may have polarised opinion yet it will undeniably be a duller sport without him.
Paul Galvin in action for Kerry for the last time.
Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer