Monday 16 December 2019

Big Dan: I stuck it out in love-hate relationship

Davy Fitzgerald congratulates Dan Shanahan after Waterford's victory over Wexford in the 2008 All-Ireland SHC.
Davy Fitzgerald congratulates Dan Shanahan after Waterford's victory over Wexford in the 2008 All-Ireland SHC.

Liam Kelly

DAN Shanahan towered over wee Davy Fitzgerald and the conversation in his head went like this: "Will I hit him or just walk out?"

Right there and then, it was decision time for 'Dan the Man', the Waterford scoring icon who had just felt his temper rise to boiling point at remarks made by Fitzgerald, the former Clare goalkeeper who was then the Decies manager.

It was 2009 and Shanahan wasn't particularly enjoying Fitzgerald's stewardship. He hadn't been a regular in the team and a crunch clash with Limerick was looming.

The tensions underlying that game were heightened by Justin McCarthy managing Limerick.

The previous summer, Waterford's players had revolted against McCarthy and got him out of the job. Now he was in charge of a Treaty team with Waterford in his sights.

But as Shanahan reveals in his candid life story 'Dan Shanahan my autobiography' published this week by Transworld Ireland, McCarthy was the least of his worries at that time.

His frustration with Fitzgerald was growing, particularly as he did not start in the drawn match against Limerick.

And then Davy came out with a line about 'whingers' which almost got him planted by Dan.

"Two weeks previous to the drawn game my understanding was that if I played well in a challenge game against Dublin, Davy would start me against Limerick," said Shanahan.


"I scored 1-3 and Davy said afterwards to me, 'you're flying'. But he started Gary Hurney in the second game ahead of me.

"Gary's a lovely fella but he's a footballer. He wouldn't get the goals I'd get. On top of that Eoin Kelly was able to tell me the team before it was announced and I knew I wasn't playing.

"I called Davy aside and we argued about it. Passionately. Then, at a training session, I felt he went and made a show of me in front of the entire team -- 'No whingers here,' he was saying. 'Any whingers can clear out the gate'.

"When he said that I was looking down at him and thinking, 'Will I hit him or just walk out?' In the end I said to myself that I'd stuck it out with Justin, and I'd stick it out with Davy too. We had a love-hate relationship."

As events transpired, Big Dan was to 'stick it out' with Fitzgerald until he announced his retirement on August 15, after Waterford lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Tipperary.

It was the end of an era, and with the memories still fresh, Shanahan has opened his heart in this very readable book.

Inevitably the dramas of the last four years will be of particular interest to Waterford followers and GAA fans, especially the end of McCarthy's reign in June 2008 and the resurgence under Fitzgerald that brought an All-Ireland final appearance that year.

But Shanahan has more to tell.

His story, which started at a time when training methods were less sophisticated and less scientific than they are now, spans almost a decade and a half, during which Waterford provided great entertainment and drama.

Two things you might not know: Shanahan was born in Cork of all places, although he was brought up in Lismore, Waterford; and he was one of seven players who voted for Justin McCarthy to stay on after the 2008 heave against the manager.

This, despite his infamous refusal to shake hands with McCarthy when the player was taken off during that calamitous match against Clare, an incident captured on camera.

"I was annoyed with myself, and injured, and obviously I didn't enjoy getting the call from the sideline, but as I came off the field I made the biggest mistake of my life.

"Justin stuck his hand out to shake, the normal procedure from the manager when you're getting hauled ashore, and I didn't take it. I just brushed past him.

"A pat on the back coming off the field? I should have got a kick up the a***, but that was the beginning of me getting some amount of s**t.

"If I'd even said to Justin after the match 'I'm sorry I didn't shake your hand', it might have blown over, but I didn't.

"There was an awful atmosphere in the dressing-room afterwards, and if things were going wrong before the game, it was diabolical afterwards.

"When we got out of the Gaelic Grounds some of the players went to the back of the bus and the talk was simple enough: 'he's got to go'. It was that quick."

That journey back to Waterford was the beginning of the end for McCarthy's tenure, which had begun in 2002. There had been mutterings about the manager among the group back in 2007, when Shanahan won Hurler of the Year.

Basically, the players had spent a long time listening to the one voice, and during 2008 Shanahan reports that the atmosphere in the camp was poor, and there was dissatisfaction with the training.


When the players met in the Majestic Hotel for intense discussions among themselves the day after the Clare defeat, they were there till two in the morning. At the end a majority voted to get McCarthy out. Seven were against it, including Shanahan, who says: "I didn't agree with changing horses in mid-stream."

The county board backed the players, and in fairness to McCarthy, he left quickly, but his legacy was three Munster championship victories and a NHL title. Not too shabby at all.

Davy Fitz was the surprise choice to succeed him, and it went well until Kilkenny destroyed the Decies in the All-Ireland final.

Brian Cody's men also ended Waterford's 2009 campaign, this time in the semi-final, but Fitzgerald delivered a Munster title this year.

Once Tipp took out Waterford on August 15, Shanahan had run his course with senior inter-county hurling, but he has plenty to say for himself in this autobiography.

Irish Independent

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