Wayne Hutchinson: 'This is new territory for us'
By Cian O’Connell
Wayne Hutchinson’s hurling life is busy at the moment. Ballygunner’s AIB All Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final against Ballyhale Shamrocks features high on the agenda, but Hutchisnon is also preparing to train Dublin outfit Whitehall Colmcilles in 2019 under Ger O’Connor.
Coaching teams is something which interests Hutchinson, who acknowledges ‘that is definitely my next calling after playing the game’, but what a match awaits at Semple Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
So much intrigue surrounds the impending Thurles tussle as Ballygunner, after significant Munster heartbreak, are now back operating on the national stage.
That the most decorated club of the lot – Ballyhale Shamrocks – provides the opposition simply adds to the excitement and challenge. “Even though it is Kilkenny and Waterford there is a feeling around that it is a local club game,” Hutchinson admits. “From club to club is only a 30 minute commute or drive really.
“You only have the bridge in Waterford separating the two clubs really. They'd know a lot about us, we would know a lot about them, in particular our county players versus their county players. We obviously have played them down through the years in challenge games.
“This is our first time to meet them in Club Championship hurling. They have been in this position before, we haven't so this is new territory for us. Again whoever manages that time in between and I think Ballyhale have an advantage in that they have been here before.
“They know what it takes to get ready for a semi-final, while we are at a stage where it is new ground for us. We are going into the unknown, we just have to prepare as well as we possibly can.”
To land the Munster title meant so much to Ballygunner, who completed a five in a row in Waterford in 2018. “Yeah, probably since 2001 with the club and this team probably has been on the road together since 2013,” Hutchinson acknowledges.
“A large amount of the team would have been there when we were beaten by Passage in a County Final, they came back to beat us. We have been trying really since 2014 with this group and thankfully we finally got over the line. It was a good feeling.”
Ballygunner demonstrated immense character to keep responding to setbacks down south, but Hutchinson always felt there was something special about this crop of hurlers. “I wouldn't expect anything else, they are a driven group of players,” Hutchinson remarks.
“Sometimes it comes off for you and other years it mightn't come off, but thankfully in 2018 it came together for us. It is a long time, you are talking two and a half months since the Munster Final. We played really, really well in that game. We needed to play really well, but the point I'm trying to make is that form doesn't really matter now.
“It is a new book, there is a new chapter being opened. Form from individuals and as a team goes out the window because it is a new season. Two and a half months down the line is a new season.”
Living in Dublin Hutchinson briefly played with St Jude’s before opting to return to action with his native club. “In 2014 we won the club, even before we won that I knew where I was going to be a couple of months later - not that I knew I'd be playing hurling in Dublin, but I knew I would be in Dublin on a full-time basis,” Hutchinson recalls.
“I knew I wasn't going to be able to commit to 2015 so it was either go to Dublin, work, and not have any social interaction with anything and don't play the game or go live in Dublin, work in Dublin and do something you enjoy on the side like play hurling. It just made sense for me to keep playing up here and I had a connection with St Jude's.
“So I gave it a go for a year and enjoyed every minute of it. I met some fantastic people and lads, they are a good club and I wish them all the best for the future. I'm actually living in the parish of the club so I still go to their games.”
Hutchinson who wrote an thoughtful blog about his battle with depression five years ago believes the GPA is assisting players throughout the country. “Absolutely,” Hutchinson says. “In my book the GPA have a fantastic service. There's a lot of people out there in the media who would say the GPA are only for the top teams. But the same people who are saying this, I'm not sure if they've ever had first-hand experience of working with the GPA.
“The GPA have so many services that they can offer players. The one thing about the GPA is each county has a GPA representative. It's very important that whatever team has a GPA representative actually speaks on behalf of the players and he's a leader within the group and he can actually send across information from the GPA into squads.
“The GPA won't come to you, you have to go to the GPA in some ways. If you want to get career advice, you must actually have the ownership of yourself to go look for these services.
“I know that they do great help with a lot of players around the whole area of mental health, they've private counselling services that players can go to, they've fantastic education opportunities for players, a fantastic personal development programme that is there for players who want to enhance their careers so they have a fantastic service.”
Waterford’s early Championship exit in 2018 was a disappointment, but Hutchinson believes it ultimately assisted Ballygunner with the availability of so many inter-county players.
“I think it really did,” Hutchinson responds. “Obviously we all get behind the lads, Pauric and Philip (Mahony) and Stephen (O’Keeffe) and Ian Kenny and the other lads that are involved, Peter Hogan, as a club and as friends and as team-mates.
“But with Waterford going out earlier, I'd no question and no doubt in my mind, it definitely did help. Just having the group for a longer period of time because before what would have happened, Waterford get to Croke Park for August-September, next thing the County Board are under so much pressure to play off the games, they might have the fixture the week later, so you're only getting a week to work with players and there's a massive difference say between a week and say eight weeks.
“Having your main guys to prepare with for the club. Even though the lads would have been disappointed to have been knocked out of the inter-county scene so early, I think they're after enjoying that long period of time with the club.”