Waterford busy planning for the future
By Cian O'Connell
In Waterford's All Ireland SHC Quarter-Final win over Wexford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last month 20 players were used by Derek McGrath.
Ballygunner, Tourin, Passage, Clashmore/Kinsalebeg, Fourmilewater, De La Salle, Stradbally, Mount Sion, Lismore, Ballysaggart, Colligan, and Tallow were all represented.
It is just the way the sport is at the moment in Waterford, owing much to the coaching work being carried out throughout the county.
Eoin Breathnach, the Games Manager in Waterford, has been involved since 2004 before taking his current role in 2009, and is ideally placed to assess the development.
"There is certainly a huge spread of clubs in the hurling, and then to a lesser extent in the football," Breathnach says.
"It is a product of the development squad system that was put in place by the people that were there before I got involved.
"That squad system was put in place maybe just over 15 years ago, it was to try to give every young lad, no matter what club he was, a Division One or a Division Four club, that he would have a chance to get on to a development squad."
Waterford take significant pride and satisfaction from how many players have flared to prominence. Walsh cites how Brian O'Halloran and Tadhg de Burca from his own club, Clashmore/Kinsalebeg, as an example of the possibilities which exist.
"I think players feel that no matter what club they come from they have an opportunity to play," Breathnach remarks.
"If they are good enough they will get an opportunity to be on a development squad. If they are good enough to make that squad, they can make a panel and it won't matter what club they are from. I think that is a huge help to all of the clubs because it means a Junior or Intermediate club know that if they have a good enough lad they will get a chance to be on the minor, Under 21 or senior team.
"Even my own club, Clashmore, have two lads on the senior team. We never had anyone before, but we have had Brian O'Halloran and Tadhg de Burca involved for the last number of years. We would have been known as a football club, but there has been a huge emphasis on hurling in the club during the past 15 or 20 years.
"The people doing it on the coalface, in the clubs at underage are doing a huge amount. Our club to have two lads on the senior hurling panel, that would have been unheard of 20 years ago.
"We might have had two or three on the senior football panel, but as for the senior hurling, it would have been completely unheard of in my own club. It is the same across a lot of the clubs, which is great. I suppose it means you are covering more of the county, there are more opportunities for players which strengthens the county teams too."
De La Salle earned Harty Cups in 2007 and 2008, while Dungarvan Colleges triumphed in 2013. Those successes were also important factors in the emergence of a new crop of Waterford hurlers.
"De La Salle making the breakthrough with the Harty Cup was a huge thing," Breathnach accepts.
"That fed in then to minor teams and some of them lads had been on good development squads. Winning the Harty then fed into minor and some of them are part of the senior team now.
"Dungarvan Colleges followed that up three or four years later again. We would love to have more schools playing in the A hurling competitions, but to have two on any given year is good. Blackwater are making good progress and are always contributing, they are very competitive and contributing to the system."
Critical work continues to be carried out at Primary Schools level too. Clubs throughout Waterford contribute handsomely to the process according to Breathnach.
"The Cumann na mBunscoil in Waterford is very strong, our GDAs are in almost 70 schools, we have club-school coaches in over 50 of those schools,” Breathnach reveals.
“Cumann na mBunscoil are running very strong leagues and competitions and tournaments. That is where an awful lot of the groundwork starts.
"It is seen in Croke Park in All Ireland Semi-Finals and Finals, but it all might have started 15 or 20 years ago in a Primary School with a good teacher or a good club-school person or a good GDA going in to develop the interest in the game. That is hugely important. While the senior team is the flagship team, sometimes our job in Coaching and Games is almost to make sure that the next team is coming through.
“When they get to senior we wouldn't have any involvement in it, but we have to make sure that we do our part, to make sure there is another senior team coming through in five or six years and another one coming behind them again, to keep the ball rolling all of the time."
Ultimately heroes will always matter, acting as a source of hope and inspiration. Breathnach admits that the teams which served Gerald McCarthy and Justin McCarthy so well left a lasting impression.
"The lads who are on the senior team now and who are a force in senior hurling they grew up watching the glory team of the late 90s and early 00s - the likes of Ken (McGrath), Paul Flynn, John Mullane, Tony Browne, Dan (Shanahan), Eoin Kelly that great team that Gerald McCarthy and Justin McCarthy built," Breathnach says.
"The mainstay players on the senior team grew up watching them in Thurles and obviously that sparked a huge interest and they wanted to be the next generation. I suppose we were lucky that structures allowed us to do that with schools, clubs, and ourselves. We had competitions like the all county Under 14 and Under 16 competitions have been a good help and that was spread to minor about seven or eight years ago.
"That has to raise the bar, to raise the standard. It all feeds into the ultimate aim to have strong teams in hurling and football. Obviously our hurling team is our flagship team, but our football team matter. I'm sure they'd like to be more successful, but it isn't for the want of effort on behalf of the team, even at underage.
"They don't get the limelight or the success level, but there is work going on and good people are doing good work there as well." Reaching an All Ireland Senior Hurling Final would be the next step on the journey. Waterford are planning for the future.