PORTUMNA ARE BACK where they belong, in an All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final.
And this time they have a point to prove.
“We had been completely written off,” Damien Hayes says of those wilderness years from 2010 to 2013 that didn’t even yield a county championship, a dispiriting barren spell for a club that won three AIB All-Ireland titles in the space of four seasons.
It could have been even better had Ballyhale Shamrocks not torpedoed their bid for three-in-a-row in the 2010 decider.
Then the slump set in.
“[They said] that we were finished and other teams were taking over.”
Other teams like county rivals Clarinbridge and St Thomas’s, both of whom used the Galway championship as a springboard for success on their way to maiden All-Irelands.
It proved that club hurling out west has never been as competitive and, under new management in Franky Canning and Mike Monaghan, that would have to be the cornerstone of Portumna’s revival.
“Everyone will ask them questions, “do you think you’ll get back?” or whatever, and we did.”
After so many years of dominance, what happened?
Lads retired and lads were tired and got married and got better jobs. Lads were on the road more.
It was commitment too so there probably was a bit of tiredness in the set-up.
“In 2012 we were disappointed with the way things went. We were knocked out in the quarter-final stage and that is the most dangerous stage in Galway club hurling. You haven’t played a game in eight to ten weeks so and you play a few challenge matches but anything can happen in a county quarter-final.
“We got pipped by a point.”
The 2013 quarter-final, a nail-biter against Adrahan, proved to be just as pivotal. It was Hayes who settled matters with a puck of the ball deep into injury time and he knows that it stood to them, both in their semi-final against St Thomas’s which went to a replay and the county final, where they blasted Loughrea aside to win by seven.
“If memory serves me right, I think we were two points down with about three minutes to go and we came back and won it by a point, which was great.
“We didn’t play great on the day and it was a kind of cold, winterish day but it was great to have won by a point.
It gave our squad a bit of confidence because we hadn’t got past the quarter-finals in the two previous years so it was nearly a monkey off our back and we were in the last four again.
Munster champions Na Piarsaigh will provide a stern test of their title credentials in Semple Stadium tomorrow, with the winners likely to be hot favourites for the Croke Park decider on St Patrick’s Day.
“It felt like a bit of a gap,” Hayes says, “but it was great to get back.”