O'Halloran braced for WIT's unfriendly fire
BRIAN O'Halloran made a fairytale comeback for Waterford's hurlers last weekend, scoring four points from play in their shock one-point victory over Clare in Ennis.
His form at full-forward, after a two-year injury lay-off, was hugely encouraging for a county that badly needs to develop new attacking options and earned him an "outstanding" rating from exacting county manager Michael Ryan.
But, in three days' time, O'Halloran will be looking to repeat that performance against many of his own Deise team-mates.
A final-year primary school teaching student, he is part of the Mary Immaculate College side who won third-level's second tier Ryan Cup last year to return to the Fitzgibbon Cup for only the second time in their history.
The Limerick college, managed by Eamonn Cregan, have already made a surprise run to Friday's Fitzgibbon semi-finals in GMIT.
And between them and a historic place in the final lies a Waterford IT side featuring many of O'Halloran's inter-county colleagues and friends.
He is not the only one with conflicting emotions.
His student team, powered by Limerick's Declan Hannon, Cork's Luke O'Farrell, Clare's John Conlon and Galway's Conor Cooney, also includes Waterford senior Killian Fitzgerald (Passage).
They've got the difficult task now of trying to oust a WIT team whose starting 15 includes Noel Connors, Stephen O'Keeffe, Liam Lawlor, Pauric Mahony, Wayne Hutchinson, Gavin O'Brien and Jake Dillon.
Dillon is the young De La Salle star whose late free secured last weekend's victory over the Banner when Waterford's starting full-forward line last Sunday comprised O'Brien, O'Halloran and Dillon.
"We reckon WIT's training sessions must be like training with Waterford," O'Halloran quipped.
"It'll be strange playing against the lads but when you're on a pitch you just play the opposition and then once the match is over we'll all be friends again."
Lining out at full-forward for the county last weekend has already left the Clashmore forward on a high. O'Halloran was part of a Munster-winning Waterford minor team in 2009, and, just a year later, not long after he'd sat his Leaving Cert, found himself picked at full-forward in the All-Ireland senior semi-final against Tipperary.
But a bad hamstring injury wrote off his entire 2011 season, and he only lined out for club, college and the county U-21s last year as he sought to get himself back to the pace of senior inter-county fare.
"I tore a tendon off the bottom of my hamstring," the 21-year-old explained. "Apparently it is a very rare injury and happened over time but when it eventually kicked in it was unbearable and I had to spend a long time in rehabilitation.
"It was very frustrating at times but, in fairness, Davy Fitzgerald (then Waterford manager) was very helpful to me, getting me to as many specialists as possible.
"Eventually it was a local physio Michael Murray who sorted it out for me and he's my 'go-to-guy' now if I feel a twinge."
And, as much as O'Halloran is delighted by his return to inter-county action, it is clear that 'Mary I's' historic third-level run is equally delighting him.
"It's a small college where everyone knows each other so there's a really close bond between us. We've a chance to reach a Fitzgibbon final now so we're just living the dream," he enthused.
"We've some really well-known players but there are no superstars on the team, we all work hard for each other.
"I always wanted to be a primary school teacher so I wasn't really thinking about sport when I went to 'Mary I'," he explained. "But hopefully our run will add to the college's reputation and future students will see it as offering good sporting options as well."