Deise's new dawn
There are reasons for optimism in Waterford - even if Fitzgerald and old guard depart the scene
Published 17/08/2010 | 05:00
The sight of a disgruntled Waterford hurler throwing dagger looks and muttering sharp words in the direction of a Waterford manager as he is being substituted carries resonance from the recent past.
Remember the photo from the Gaelic Grounds over two years ago, Big Dan Shanahan's hand-off to Justin McCarthy as he removed him from the field of play? It was captured just three days before the Waterford players moved on Justin himself, ending six-and-a-half years of his own unique style of management in the county.
The picture said in one moment what couldn't be conveyed in a thousand words. Waterford and Justin's time together was done.
Fast forward to last Sunday and Eoin Kelly's sparky departure from the play after 51 minutes. More frowns, more words, but this time an undercurrent is not so detectable. There shouldn't be any clandestine meetings this week.
If Davy Fitzgerald wants to continue on as Waterford hurling manager for the next 12 months or beyond, then his work this year suggests he should be allowed to do so.
Right now, Davy is undecided. He'd like to remain in inter-county management and that opens up the prospect of him being supplemented into the race for the Limerick job which is to be filled in the coming weeks.
More likely, however, is that he will allow the dust to settle in Waterford, gauge the reaction and press on with the work he is started.
Twelve months ago, when Kilkenny beat them in an All-Ireland semi-final by five points, it looked like his work with Waterford was done. Together with the players they had restored stability and respectability after the mauling of the 2008 All-Ireland hurling final.
To continue would require a complete rebuild with much pain and acrimony, it seemed. The Waterford dressing-room is full of strong personalities, some similar to Davy himself and it didn't look like a mix that could work for much longer.
But a Munster title represents strong currency for Waterford in any given year, justification for the decision to stay and that has to be taken into account. In the era of the greatest ever hurling team, pickings are thin and anything should be appreciated.
For sure Davy made some mistakes. There was merit in starting young Brian O'Halloran at Seamus Prendergast's expense on Sunday, particularly if he's going so well at training but when it doesn't pay off, there are consequences to be faced. There are merits too for holding the likes of Ken McGrath and Dan Shanahan in reserve, but introducing them when the game is effectively gone also carries a kick-back.
But that the fundamental of how Waterford have set their team out this year should suddenly come under such scrutiny is a little bit rich. This was the system, after all, that helped to deliver a Munster title last month.
Fitzgerald has already set the wheels in motion for rapid change in personnel in Waterford over the next few years. That they could win a Munster title while undergoing such change only augurs well for the future.
If he does choose to continue, Davy will almost certainly be seeking to replace some of the county's most iconic hurling figures of the last decade and a half.
True, Waterford has been swamped with speculation before but now it really does feel like the end of an era, not for a county in its entirety, but for a small hardcore of players that have been the flag bearers for the last decade.
It seems reasonable to assume that on the basis of comments they have made over the last few months, the inter-county careers of Tony Browne and Shanahan are at an end.
Browne will be 38 at the height of next year's championship and while his hurling in 2010 suggests that he can go on at least another season, his mind would appear to be made up, this time for good.
In May, in an interview with this newspaper, he was adamant that he would not hurl as a 38-year-old. The deciding factor in his return for a 19th season was the prospect of a fourth Munster championship medal. The absence of an All-Ireland medal is not something that caused him sleepless nights, he insisted.
"When I looked at it, I said to myself: 'You can still do it.' I really believe I can. I'm in good shape, I look after myself well. I'm not haunted by any fears that I won't be able for it," he said. "I look at the draw in Munster and we're 70 minutes from a Munster final. That's worth striving for. We'd love to win an All-Ireland for sure. But if I was to wind up my career with four Munster medals, I'd be a happy man."
Shanahan also appeared to draw a line under future involvement with Waterford after this year's Munster final replay when he grabbed the game-breaking goal. "It probably will be (a last Munster final appearance). It's great to finish off like that. It gets harder and harder to come back, it's a young man's game," he said.
The same strong speculation will hover around the heads of Ken McGrath and the goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy.
McGrath's knees are in a poor state of repair but being so 'lightly raced' in 2010 may convince him to stick with it. All the experience and craft shouldn't be allowed to disappear in one winter.
For Waterford, completing the work already started looks like a two- to three-year project. Weaving Tomas Ryan, O'Halloran, Maurice Shanahan and others into the tapestry, just as Noel Connors and Richie Foley have come in, will take that long.
Already there is a year done and Waterford remain a top-four team. That's a good season in any audit.