Wednesday 13 December 2017

'My greatest fear was being over in America and seeing Waterford win an All-Ireland'

Déise impact sub O’Halloran delighted that he listened to McGrath and kept pursuing his inter-county dream

Brian O’Halloran has battled back from injuries to get back into contention. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Brian O’Halloran has battled back from injuries to get back into contention. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

At least Brian O'Halloran can claim a line of consistency in a Waterford senior career now covering eight seasons.

In that time Waterford have played 31 championship games and O'Halloran has featured in 12.

The consistency comes from the three starts he has made from those 12 appearances. Each time he has started he has been the first man off.

Injury has ravaged his career. He turned on an ankle in the 2013 Munster semi-final against Clare and didn't feature again for two more years.

Before that, ongoing hamstring problems were the bane of his hurling life, effectively sidelining him for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

And then there was 2010. Then manager Davy Fitzgerald liked what he saw and, not long after O'Halloran had completed his Leaving Cert in 2010, threw him in at the deep end for that Saturday evening Munster final replay against Cork that finished in darkness with Waterford claiming a fourth title in nine years.

For the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary he made his first championship start but it was over before he knew it as Waterford got caught up in the tactical web they had spun for themselves.

"It was a disaster personally for myself," he recalls. "Davy had good faith in me and things were going well in training. It just didn't work out on the day," he recalled.

Hindsight

"In hindsight, I probably wasn't ready physically or mentally. I was only 18, playing against seasoned campaigners. Very disappointing day personally and we lost too. That was my first year. I wasn't long experiencing the highs and lows of inter-county."

The following years were dictated by those injuries, the opportunities to atone for that disappointing day severely limited.

"I know people wonder about mental scars or whatever. There weren't any. The year after I got a bad hamstring injury and that was the most frustrating thing - that I wasn't able to kind of right the wrongs.

"I'd two or three years of bad injuries after that. They set me back a lot more than the mental side of it. I learned a lot from that day in Croke Park. It was a tough day. It was probably tough on my family too. As a youngster, reading tough things about you in the paper.

"At the time I was kind of in a happy bubble. 'I'm hurling well, this is great, this is easy in a way.' Then you got brought down to earth fairly quick. But I wouldn't give out about Davy for that. He made the call and at the time I'd good confidence in myself and Davy had good confidence in me."

The mental toll came from the injuries, not the experience of 2010, he admits. To spend six years on a squad and just feature in four out of 21 championship games left him questioning his investment at different intervals. His manager Derek McGrath was able to draw on his own experience to stay the distance.

"There were times when I was thinking I should be in America on a J1 or I should be in Cheltenham in March, not rehabbing for National League.

"But Derek's always on about persistence, to bide your time and stay at it. He was a very talented minor, he said he never stayed at it and he regrets it.

"My greatest fear was being over in America, seeing Waterford win an All-Ireland or something like that, knowing I could have had some part to play in it. I don't think I could live with the regrets of that. I wanted to do as much as I could for as long as I could. If I wasn't required, so be it, but I wanted to stay on my own terms."

For the last two seasons his involvement has ramped up. Waterford don't tend to change personnel much, even after setbacks like the 2016 Munster final, so O'Halloran has had to be content with an impact role off the bench. The substitutions aren't pre-ordained but they do have a familiar pattern.

Maurice Shanahan generally leads the charge, followed by any one of O'Halloran, Thomas Ryan, Colin Dunford, Patrick Curran or Stephen Bennett. They have added pace and energy, most notably against Kilkenny in their July qualifier when they opened the Cats defence in extra-time.

"We've been fortunate it has worked the last two or three games. I don't think it's as formulated a plan as people might make out, you don't know when you're coming on."

Beating Kilkenny was a milestone, more for the older generation of spectators who have accepted their neighbours' superiority for so long.

"It was a big thing but, for the younger brigade, it wasn't as big.

"I was talking to a few people around Clashmore who said they could never envisage a Waterford team beating a Kilkenny team. Underage we've been fortunate that Waterford have been competing strongly but there was a bit of history and Kilkenny, having beaten us the last two years in the semi-final, it was sweet to beat them."

Clashmore is deep in west Waterford territory, close to the Cork border and that part of the county has been more than holding its own over the last 20 years in terms of contribution to the senior team.

"The structures were put in place, we received the best of coaching in Clashmore. Just because we were a small junior-intermediate club doesn't mean we were neglected by Waterford coaching. You'll get a chance if you're from an intermediate club."

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