Monday 11 December 2017

John Mullane: Deise young guns shouldn't fear Kilkenny ahead of semi-final showdown

Waterford’s Austin Gleeson takes on John Walsh of Kilkenny during their All-Ireland MHC semi-final victory in Croke Park in 2013
Waterford’s Austin Gleeson takes on John Walsh of Kilkenny during their All-Ireland MHC semi-final victory in Croke Park in 2013

John Mullane

We had numbers stitched into our De La Salle training tops in 2012. 3-3-1. Derek McGrath was our club manager and he wanted us to achieve a third county title and a third Munster club crown, with the number one representing an All-Ireland club win.

Those numbers brought pressure but also focused our minds. We won that third county title and almost won Munster too, losing to a fine Thurles Sarsfields team in the provincial final. And who knows, if we had managed to get past Sars, we could have pushed on and got the 1.

Looking back, that piece of numerical psychology was a masterstroke.

Some of our local rivals knew about it. They were over-thinking and trying too hard to beat us. It deflected from their own work.

There's another story from 2008, when Derek was in charge of the De La Salle Harty Cup team.

After winning the title in 2007, Derek painted a message on the hurling wall - 'back to back'.

It's a feat that was achieved by a team featuring current Waterford senior players Stephen O'Keeffe, Noel Connors, Barry Coughlan, Philip Mahony, Steven Daniels, Eddie Barrett and Jake Dillon. Another, Pauric Mahony, is sadly out injured.

What Derek has succeeded in doing with this Waterford bunch is to create a spirit and a bond that is almost unbreakable.


It's a spirit that another man with connections to the De La Salle order, Brian Cody, has instilled in his Kilkenny set-up.

I read Tommy Walsh's piece on the website recently and Tommy remembers Cody telling his team that he wasn't there necessarily to win All-Irelands, but to create a spirit that couldn't be broken.

It's what Waterford now have because many of these players have grown up together and won together - Harty Cups, Croke Cups, All-Ireland minor titles, Fitzgibbon Cups.

Austin Gleeson, Tom Devine, the Bennett brothers and Patrick Curran all played at Croke Park - and won - in the 2013 All-Ireland minor final.

Waterford beat Kilkenny in the semi-final two years ago in the minor grade, also at Croke Park, and the 2007 Croke Cup final between De La Salle and Kilkenny CBS was also played there.

Winning big titles and big games at Croke Park from a young age sets players up to push on and achieve more. The monkey is off the back from a young age and let me tell you, the sight of the stripey black and amber jersey will not overawe these Deise players.

It was different for us. Between 1998 and 2007, there was always a belief that we could beat Kilkenny but we were psychologically scarred after that heavy All-Ireland final defeat in 2008.

Still, I always believed any time that I took to the field that we were going to beat them. And I have that belief in my heart now, a belief that a Waterford team can achieve something that hasn't been done since 1959 by beating Kilkenny in senior Championship hurling.

It's been a long time coming but there can be no room for doubt.

Niamh Fitzpatrick, the sport psychologist who worked with the Wexford All-Ireland winning team in 1996, visited us a week before the 2007 League final against Kilkenny.

She asked us how we were feeling about the challenge that lay in store and we wrote down our responses to share with the group.

One of our lads, a sub at the time, was honest to a fault. "I hope we win," he began, "but I don't think we will win."

If Waterford have any guy with that mindset next Sunday, Kilkenny will sense it and capitalise because they prey on fear and insecurity.

Look at Limerick last year. They gave a colossal performance against Kilkenny but when it came to getting over the line, they couldn't do it.

Cody is a big factor in this because his Championship record is exceptional. The only managers to beat him in the Championship since 1999 are Jimmy Barry-Murphy (twice), John Conran (Wexford 2004), Galway trio Noel Lane, Conor Hayes and Anthony Cunningham, Cork's Donal O'Grady, Liam Sheedy from Tipperary and Anthony Daly, when he managed Dublin to a Leinster championship win in 2013.

Derek McGrath would love to add his name to that exclusive list and maybe, just maybe, St John Baptist de la Salle is looking down and thinking that it might be time for a changing of the guard within the order.

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