Tuesday 21 November 2017

'If we could pull this one off it would be one of the best ever'

Galway U-21 manager Tony Ward with the new James Nowlan Cup. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Galway U-21 manager Tony Ward with the new James Nowlan Cup. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

This weekend has been circled on Tony Ward's calendar for as long as he can remember.

As Galway camogie boss he presided over their two O'Duffy Cup wins, 17 years apart in 1996 and 2013, but instead of patrolling Croke Park's sidelines tomorrow, he finds himself on the hallowed turf of Semple Stadium today.

Ward had intended taking "a year or two" out of management after Galway fell to Cork in last year's camogie decider but with the delay in appointing Anthony Cunningham's senior successor, he was afforded more time to mull over the idea of throwing his name into the hat with the U-21s.

"The rest is history" as he says himself, and the Sarsfields clubman has thoroughly enjoyed the different commitment dynamic with the U-21s as he leads an unheralded Galway side into today's All-Ireland decider.

"That was one reason why I went for it," Ward says. "With the camogie, you're playing 10- 15 games between challenges, league and championship.

"Whereas in this you're preparing for. . . our preparation was for August 20 all along, just one game. That brings its own pressure too, one hour and it could be all over, like it happened for the last four years in Galway.

"But the semi-final, if you planned it, it couldn't have gone better. You got 80 minutes of hurling, got to look at 21 guys and came out the right side of the result. It looked like it was Dublin's to win but it was our lads that dug deeper."

While displaying obvious signs of ring rust, the Tribesmen showed guts in abundance during their 0-21 to 0-19 extra-time defeat of the Dubs, with Ward feeling they are now in prime position for an ambush.

All the talk is of a talent-laden Waterford side including household names like Austin Gleeson, Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett, who have wowed hurling followers at the highest level throughout the summer.

On the other hand, Galway are light on senior experience, but that might work in their favour.

"Oh sure we are coming in under the radar. Waterford, anybody all over the country could list off their players," Ward states. "Whereas I suppose Conor Whelan, Brian Molloy, and you get stuck after that on our team, which is a good thing for our lads.

"Another good thing, we've had all the lads training all year, we'd three guys involved with the seniors. We were able to build up a squad and a bit of comradeship amongst the lads."

Valuable lessons were learned throughout the year, having played Galway's seniors on four occasions with varying results, and Ward is well aware that they are coming up against a Déise juggernaut but they'll embrace the task.

"If you can't hurl in Thurles you are going to hurl nowhere like, and the crowd really shouldn't be an issue," he says.

"Waterford are going to have a massive following, but our job is to maybe quieten that following."

No reference has been made of Waterford's big guns and while Ward marvels at the talents of Gleeson and Co, he hopes it adds to even heavier expectation.

"I don't know, unless we put a good lock on the dressing-room door," Ward jokes when asked how they can stop Gleeson giving another tour de force today.

"Ah, look it, sure wouldn't it be a dream for any county to have a player of his capabilities at 21 and being talked of as the next hurler in Ireland - hopefully brings its own pressure."

"I have great respect for these guys - they are famous hurlers but you know, you don't keep mentioning their names in the dressing-room. You go, 'the six channel, the 11 channel'.

"You try and play it down as much as you can because if we build them up in our dressing-room, we are in trouble."

Ward still pinches himself after winning two All-Ireland camogie titles (intermediate and senior) in one famous day three years ago but to win this evening would be "something else".

"Even to go to mass in my own parish, everybody says, 'fair play to ye, ye bet Dublin, you did well', but the but is there. Nobody, even in Galway, could see us putting this one over, so if we did it would be one of the best ones ever."

Irish Independent

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