'It's as close as you can get to playing without playing' - Jamie Wall's heroic journey to Independent.ie Fitzgibbon Cup semis
On the morning of last year's Fitzgibbon Cup final, Eamonn Cregan approached his Mary Immaculate College backroom team to say 'this is my last day of it' before shaking their hands.
To subsequently secure their first Dr Edwin Fitzgibbon Cup was the dream send-off for the Limerick legend but little did Jamie Wall know that 12 months later he would be replacing him.
Having represented Cork in both codes - losing an All-Ireland MFC final to Tyrone in 2010 - Wall was struck down with a bacterial illness in June 2014 just days after helping the Rebels claim Munster intermediate hurling honours.
It led to an abscess on his spine which necessitated an operation but the spinal compression left him unable to move his legs. He has been confined to a wheelchair for the past two-and-a-half years but, at just 24, the dream of returning to the playing fields still burns brightly.
Routines Rigorous rehab routines of two to three hours per day were put to one side somewhat, however, as the opportunity to help secure back-to-back titles with his alma mater was something the Kilbrittain clubman felt he had to throw his hat into the ring for.
As he was spending a few months alone in Cambridge, he started to create a managerial dossier and ended up with half an A4 refill pad explaining how he would tackle the job if selected. It had the desired effect as he was handed the "package deal" of Fresher and Fitzgibbon Cup sides for the 2016/2017 season.
It has dominated his thoughts since then and he's loving every second of this new challenge with hopes that it all culminates in Galway over the weekend.
"I'm really enjoying it, it's pi**ing rain here in Limerick and I'm on my way over to training but it's great," he says. "It's as close as you can get to playing without playing. It taxes your brain a lot more than hurling.
"In management you have to be alert constantly and find things that are happening before they become big issues, you look at things differently, it's a different type of enjoyment. It's not playing but I can enjoy it in a totally different way. I haven't gone back full-time to the teaching so this is part-time. It's a nice bridge because I feel strongly about it. I've been arranging my schedule in six-month blocks and the Fitzgibbon tied in perfectly with that.
"I got involved with my old college so there's that club feel to it too, it's not just about getting a team and going on the circuit, it's almost like taking charge of my own club at home because it was my home for three years."
Scrolling through his Twitter biography would quickly smarten up anyone feeling sorry for themselves or short on motivation. "There is a way to get your dreams without falling asleep. Never Give Up, Never Let Up. #Believe," it reads.
Despite difficult circumstances his drive is obvious but he has consciously "tapered back" his personal rehab to stay fresh for the future and hurling is all that's on his brain this weekend.
With a star-studded Mary I crew including Ronan Maher, Colm Galvin and Cian Lynch under his wing, he will be directly opposite LIT and Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald in Dangan today on what he hopes will be part one of another history-making 24 hours.
Dealing with such calibre doesn't faze him; if anything it makes his job easier as he looks to lead a side pulling from two college courses to a title "second only to Liam MacCarthy".
"It's a doddle. Of course top-class players demand high standards but they're at the top because they're willing and capable of taking direction. You are dealing with guys who are at the top because they know they don't know everything," he says.
Wall adds: "Because the games are during the week and the league is starting it doesn't get the support it deserves but the real mark of a medal is what the players think of it. And anyone who has played Fitzgibbon sees its value and that for me tells me what's important. It's the one the players all want to win."
Emigrated Unlike his playing career he has taken "a far healthier view" to management and is not looking too far forward. "When I was a player there was a sense of, 'I need to be doing this, I need to be progressing now'," he says.
"Whereas with management I'm just enjoying it. You haven't a clue where you'll be in five years, you mightn't be around at all, you might have emigrated but I wouldn't be human if I didn't think, 'Jesus I could manage Cork and this or that'. But five or six years of management you could think, 'Jesus I never want to go through that stress again'."
Most people would have thrown in the towel but it's clear Jamie Wall is not most people.
IT Carlow v UCC, Dangan, 1.0
An intriguing tie as Kilkenny legend DJ Carey leads his IT Carlow side into their first Fitzgibbon Cup weekend and after producing shocks to draw with reigning champions Mary I in the group stages before upsetting UL in the quarter-finals, confidence will be high.
They hit UL for three first-half goals with Charlie Dwyer, Jack Fagan and Mark Russell on fire up front and when it looked like their goose was cooked in the final quarter they battled back. with Chris Bolger’s late goal putting the seal on a magnificent performance with many players from traditionally weaker counties excelling like Kerry’s Kevin Hannafin and Meath’s Damian Healy.
They come up against the skull and crossbones of 38-time champions UCC with a talent-laden side including Tipp duo Seamus Kennedy and Michael Breen, Waterford’s Jamie Barron and Conor Gleeson, as well as Cork’s Alan Cadogan, and that type of firepower may just be too high a mountain to climb for Carlow.
Odds: IT Carlow 5/4 UCC 4/5 Draw 9/1
Mary I v LIT, Dangan, 3.0
Jamie Wall’s Mary I bid for back-to-back titles but their credentials will be sternly tested in this Limerick derby. Aaron Gillane may not be in John Kiely’s Treaty plans at present but he has been their star man in attack alongside Cian Lynch and both will take some watching.
With All-Star centre-back Ronan Maher manning the defence and Colm Galvin pulling the strings at midfield, they’ll be a tough nut to crack but Davy Fitzgerald likes nothing more than a Fitzgibbon Cup upset and he has the tools at his disposal to do so.
The Bennett brothers, Kieran and Shane, are class acts while Diarmaid Byrnes is capable of dictating a game from half-back. They may just lack the killer punch up front, however, with an over-reliance on Paul Killeen and the champions are tipped to squeak through.
Odds: Mary I 10/11 LIT 11/10 Draw 8/1
Verdict: Mary I
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