UNITY and self belief dragged Waterford’s faltering hurling season back together after the horrific pain of the Munster final, and now the Suirsiders are intent on climbing up the rankings, writes John Knox.
“We are under no illusions,” suggested Waterford selector and former James Stephens manager, Paraic Fanning when he spoke to the ’People about Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny.
“This is a massive test for us. We know where we are in the pecking order in hurling, and we are trying to climb up the rankings.”
All in the space of two testing weeks Waterford turned the potential calamity of a 7-19 to 0-19 Munster final mauling against Tipperary into a season reviving 2-23 to 2-13 victory over Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
The Deise looked all but dead and buried in the championship after that 21 points beating against scintillating Tipperary, but against all the odds and predictions they upended Galway in the quarter-finals to book a place in the last four.
“It was the combined will of everyone involved with Waterford, the players, management and everyone else, that made that happen,” Mr Fanning insisted. “Unity was our priceless quality in what was a most trying situation.”
Led by manager, Davy Fitzgerald, Waterford decided on an exclusive self healing approach after the Munster final. A training session was called for 8am in Dungarvan after the Munster final.
Things were raw
After working at the local GAA grounds and then Clonea Strand, players and management decided on how to get their season up and running again.
“It wasn’t so much the training or anything that made the difference,” Mr Fanning explained when he gave us a glimpse into the thinking in the camp at that crucial time. “Things were raw. We didn’t want that to linger so we all got together quickly.
“We wanted to get back up on the hurling horse, if you like, as quickly as we could. We were lucky the Munster final wasn’t the last game of the year. When you lose a match like that the only thing you want to do is go home and think about it, or not think about it.
“For us it wasn’t a case of management telling the players what to do. Everyone decided on the early morning start so we could chat out the whole thing after people had a chance to think about the game.”
Management were thrilled. They didn’t want things to fester, to have others outside the camp giving their opinion and possibly influencing the thinking.
“We decided that we would work out together what went wrong,” Mr Fanning said. “The one thing, and it is important to stress this, that helped us was our togetherness. The worst thing that could have happened was if everything was fractured after that game.
“There was no blame game. Players weren’t blaming management. Management weren’t blaming players. The responsibility was taken collectively for what happened.”
Desire to rectify things
He said everyone felt an awful hurt, and an awful desire to rectify things. That was probably what made it easier for everyone to deal with the situation, he felt.
“We took a decision that we would operate within our own set-up,” Mr Fanning explained. “Once we all believed in each other, once we decided together, it didn’t matter what people on the outside thought.
“We knew that if we believed in each other we could get through the tough challenge that lay ahead. If that hadn’t been the case you wouldn’t have seen the reaction you did against Galway. What people saw was the response of a group that was fully together.”
He didn’t refer to a “season turning event” or anything like that. Waterford, he said, had been working hard and making progress as a unit since the start of the season. The Tipperary thing happened. It was dealt with. The future was a new challenge.
“We were looking for some form of redemption against Galway,” said the man who guided ’Stephens to two county finals. “We got it. Now we will try and drive on again.”
The strong performance against Galway lifted the players, fans and the whole county and earned Waterford a place in their fourth consecutive All-Ireland semi-final.
“We are still knocking on that door trying to break it down,” Mr Fanning said of the chase for a McCarthy Cup win to go with the two they have, the last in 1959.
Kilkenny and Tipperary during the past few years, he felt, have been a bit above the rest. Waterford have been good, but they came up short and luck wasn’t always with them.
“You couldn’t but admire Kilkenny the way they go about their business, the attitude of their players,” he said when he spoke about the impression he formed of hurling during his time working at club level here. “Everyone is so into the game, into raising standards all the time. Kilkenny are not successful by accident.”
Waterford, he assured, were keen to test themselves against Kilkenny 2011.
“It is great to pit yourself against the best,” Mr Fanning continued. “We know that is what we will be doing in the All-Ireland semi-final. There is nothing beyond Sunday for either side.
“You get the sense Kilkenny are a team on a mission to get back to the top this season. We know we are up against in, but that is nothing new for us.”