'After I got back from that walk down the lane I sat on the couch and said to my da - my year's finished'
Before the season even resumed, Thomas Galligan had all but written it off. Yet when Championship got under way, the Lacken man found form that would drive the Breffnimen to an unexpected Ulster title - Neil Loughran talks to the Cavan Allstar...
THE Galligan family congregated in the living room on Saturday evening, the most modest of celebrations to welcome their own into the GAA’s pantheon of greatness.
What a buzz though, even in these strange times - like tuning into a film where you already know the ending is a good one. They watch wide-eyed as Marty Morrissey and Joanne Cantwell go through the football team, eventually arriving at the midfield pair.
Brian Fenton, later named player of the year for the second time, picks up a fifth Allstar to go with the sixth All-Ireland title won as part of the all-conquering Dublin collective in 2020. Still only 27, he has yet to lose a Championship game in Sky Blue, a run that looks unlikely to change any time soon.
Beside Fenton, Thomas Galligan. A campaign like no other threw up a host of unexpected plotlines and unlikely heroes but none moreso than Cavan and the midfield maestro who powered Mickey Graham’s men to Ulster title glory.
The middle child of the house sits surrounded by those who have watched him every step of the way, barely able to keep the smile from his face.
“It’s been mad alright, the last few days.
“There’s been texts and phone calls, people I wouldn’t have heard from this long time getting in touch… the attention is lovely, it’s nice to get rewarded for something good but I’m taking it as it comes.
“I wouldn’t be getting wound up about it or anything.”
That cousin and Cavan captain Raymond was also a deserved winner made it all the more sweet, defensive rock Padraig Faulkner completing the trio of Breffni boys who ended an Allstar drought stretching back to 1997.
Yet the story of Galligan’s season requires a bit more context than the highlight showreel from those unforgettable wins over Monaghan, Antrim, Down and Donegal.
Less than a fortnight before Cavan’s first League game back after football’s return last summer, he tested positive for Covid-19. The virus hit him hard. Already struggling with a groin problem, this was a hammer blow.
From the same sofa on which he sat last Saturday night, Galligan told his father that the rest of 2020 was a write off.
Never in his wildest dreams could the Lacken man have predicted what would unfold in the weeks ahead.
“People talk about long Covid, there’s been no long-lasting effects but at the time I got it, I was in bad enough shape. I couldn’t get out of bed for about four days, I didn’t eat… I couldn’t do anything really. After that I probably spent another week lying around too.
“It hit me on the Tuesday and on the Sunday I got up and was like ‘right, I have to go for a walk or do something here’. I’d been horizontal for four days solid.
“I went down to the end of the lane and I nearly passed out, I was completely out of breath – I just about made it back up to the house. I already had a bad groin as well so the two things were playing into each other.
“I was meant to go for a scan on my groin the day I got the positive Covid test so obviously that set me back. I’d probably given up at that point. After I got back from that walk down the lane I sat on the couch and said to my da ‘my year’s finished’. I just felt like I was done.
“We laughed about it there on Saturday night, sitting on the same couch, the same spot a couple of months earlier, and here I was getting an Allstar.”
Out of isolation by the time the League game against Kildare came about, Galligan was still “in bits”. But there was hope. Having eventually got the scan done on his groin, the doctors had given him the green light to play.
“The scan showed there were different things going on but they looked through them and told me I wasn’t going to make it any worse by playing. They basically said work away and play and at the end of the year we’ll have a look at it, so I was just taking painkillers for the few weeks.”
The start of the comeback came in the final half hour of Cavan’s ultimately ill-fated clash with Roscommon at an eerily empty Kingspan Breffni, defeat that day – aligned with Fermanagh’s late capitulation against Laois – sealing relegation to Division Three.
But it was seven days later, against their Farney neighbours, that the fire was lit under an unforgettable year. With Cavan trailing by seven and headed for the Ulster Championship exit door, Galligan was brought off the bench – the story, from thereon in, was written in the stars.
Lining up alongside Fenton on Saturday night was a special moment, though the Breffnimen could have done with a fully-fit Galligan doing something similar when, after conquering Ulster, the All-Ireland semi-final against Dessie Farrell’s men rolled around.
Galligan started and was stationed on the edge of the square for much of the evening as a brilliant year came to a frustrating end.
“Ah it was a disappointing evening for me because I played poorly.
“The manager’s idea was to stay in and be a problem close to goal, that was the plan but obviously it never really worked out. On a personal level I would’ve liked to go out around the middle but the way the lungs were and the way the legs were I probably wouldn’t have lasted that long, the way the Dublin boys play.
“I was full-forward and I was still out of breath running after everyone… it was tough. I don’t know how I’d have lasted at midfield running after Fenton the whole game.”
Across the season though, Galligan had done more than enough to merit his spot in the Allstar 15 – an accolade he might have craved but never would have anticipated coming his way.
“You wouldn’t be expecting to win it playing with Cavan, purely because you never get that far down the line.
“You nearly need to win a provincial medal to be in the reckoning and that hadn’t been happening, so you never really expect to be mentioned in that sort of context.
“I always thought I’d love to get to the stage where I could win one of them but there’s better footballers have never won an Allstar – they just didn’t get in the position, or go far enough in the competition, to put their name in the hat.
“So I feel very lucky that way. It probably won’t sink in really for another couple of years yet.”