'Training on my own helped me find mojo': Paurice Mahony
Deise's rising star Pauric Mahony tells Jackie Cahill how he's put his worst year behind him
It was a throwaway remark from a Ballygunner clubmate last August that spurred Pauric Mahony into action. Deep down, however, he knew that something needed to change.
Mahony, by his own admission, had endured his "worst year as a hurler in every way."
Barely a year had gone by when he hadn't tasted success at some level, be it underage with club or county.
He was still working his way back to full fitness, too, having undergone surgery to cure a hip problem in 2013.
Form and consistency had deserted the talented 21-year-old forward and hard work was the only cure.
"As a forward, one of the main things is scoring," he begins. "But for a long time, I was doing everything but scoring. I was in a mindset nearly of a back playing in the forward line."
Mahony rightly reasoned that a defender should worry about him, not the other way round.
"What I was doing wasn't working, so I had to do something different," he continues. "With the club, I changed my game up and put in some extra work, mentally and physically. In every way, really. For the first time ever, I analysed myself."
And so Mahony hit the training field, alone, to sort things out. "Unlimited amount of hours shooting and stuff like that," he reveals. "That gave me more confidence. I brought that this year into the senior set-up."
In six Allianz League matches, free-taker Mahony banged over 1-53, but it wasn't enough to stave off relegation, with the Deise facing Division 1B hurling in 2015 after losing the play-off to Dublin. But Mahony has his mojo back and at a time when the Waterford panel is decimated by injuries, he will carry a huge burden of scoring responsibility into the Munster SHC quarter-final against Cork on May 25.
And he's ready for the challenge.
Studying in Cork and Waterford before taking up a placement with Ernst & Young in Dublin has matured him.
For one so young, Mahony boasts remarkable levels of self-awareness and he can clearly remember the moment when the penny dropped, as Ballygunner prepared for a clash with Dungarvan in the 2013 county senior hurling championship.
"We had some must-win games in the group stages," he remembers. "We were after losing two of the first three and it was the night before that (Dungarvan) game when I started it off.
"One of the players involved actually said it to me that it could come down to frees. And so from then on, once or twice a week for four weeks, I practised on my own.
"I haven't done it so far this year, haven't had the time with work and that, but it's something I would definitely return to when I get back down to Waterford after the end of June."
Mahony explains: "When it came to shooting, I wasn't doing enough of it.
"I made it my business to get up early in the mornings before work or stay behind after training. I knew then, that when it came to championship, I had the work done."
Mahony sometimes got up at 7.0am to head to the local Ballygunner field.
"A mental thing – just to say that you had it done," he confirms. "When it comes to a pressure free maybe then in a game – and with the club I had a few of them last year – it was never in doubt.
"I was able to trust myself. I didn't really set any targets, that I'd hit 50 or whatever. I'd finish up once I felt confident with it. It was a case of 'attack the day'. Up early and the whole day ahead of you. It would put you in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the day, no matter what I was doing, studying or working."
Thus far, 2014 has been a good year for Mahony. He won a Fitzgibbon Cup medal with Waterford IT in the spring, and the 2009 Munster minor medallist ranks this success right up there with any previous achievements.
It's a big statement when you consider that Mahony is a former Harty Cup and All-Ireland colleges medallist with De La Salle, during an era when current Waterford manager Derek McGrath was in charge.
Mahony smiles: "That was brilliant! Right up there with the best I've ever had. For so long, there wouldn't be a year gone when I didn't win something at minor, U-21 or senior. Last year, I was after having my worst year as a hurler in every way. I hadn't tasted that success in a while."
Mahony stepped up as a leader throughout that successful Fitzgibbon Cup campaign, but he has always been like that. Nothing seems to faze a player who scored 0-7 on his senior championship debut against Limerick in 2011. Pitched into the white heat of championship at just 19, Mahony adapted comfortably in a new environment.
The transition from minor to senior hurler had happened so fast but Mahony was just happy to enjoy the ride.
"I didn't really think about it," he says. "It just happened. I had played with the club into October (2010), beaten by De La Salle in the county final. We had minor and U-21 with the club after that. Straight in after Christmas and straight into matches, then in the Waterford Crystal.
"Pauric Fanning was selector and he rang me and said they were short for numbers for a Waterford Crystal game against Cork IT in Walsh Park.
"'Bring your gear,' he said. I was delighted just to be there. I came on at half-time and started the next game.
"It was only after the Waterford Crystal when Davy (Fitzgerald) said I was on the panel. I owe a lot of thanks to Davy for giving me a chance. As an 18-year-old, he took a chance because a lot of people would say, 'ah, he's too young'."
The presence of brother Philip – currently sidelined with a broken leg – in the Waterford set-up helped Pauric's transition, too.
Uncle Shane O'Sullivan, back in the fold this year, was another source of advice and support.
Shane will play no part against Cork on May 25, a consequence of his red card against Dublin in the relegation play-off.
And Mahony says: "I was very close to it and I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I thought he (referee Johnny Ryan) made a mistake giving him a red card. I didn't even know if it was a free. But I think there's a new rule there now that if you touch the faceguard, it's a sending off. It seems a bit bizarre...
"We can't dwell on that – we have to move on from it. He's down over it but that's part of being a GAA player too. You'll take your knocks, you have to come back from them and no doubt about it, and he'll be back stronger."
The training ban imposed on the Waterford senior hurlers by county board officials to accommodate club fixtures, which lifted this week, has been another hot topic.
"It doesn't affect me personally anyway because I know that I'm going be right for May 25 regardless," Mahony reflects. "You can do so much work on your own. We're all training and playing away with the clubs."
Mahony admits that All-Ireland champions Clare are the team to catch.
A huge admirer of Fitzgerald and his champions, Mahony says: "They're after changing the game. For a while, lads were going to the gym, lifting and trying to go massive. Look at Kilkenny, that's the way they were, kind of bullying teams.
"But Davy's after taking fitness to a new level and the running game, they have it down to a tee. I remember playing Clare in the Waterford Crystal in Davy's first year there and they were trying this running game.
"It was breaking down the whole time, but they kept at it and they're after getting their rewards."
And Clare's development should serve as a salient lesson to Waterford fans, Mahony insists.
"It's not going to happen overnight – it's something that has to be worked on. The more times you do it, the more used to it you're going to get and the more awareness players are going to have with each other.
"Then it will start gradually coming. That's what happened with Clare – they gradually came and they peaked at the right time."
And Mahony believes that one day, he'll be part of an All-Ireland winning side with Waterford. Watching the minors do it last year only served to fuel his desire.
"Up at that minor game, that feeling gave me some goosebumps," he smiles.
"I was nearly jealous watching them. I wanted that. The lads coming in are after tasting that bit of success. Every time you see Aussie (Austin Gleeson) and Stephen Bennett ... they have that All-Ireland minor medal.
"I'd love a senior medal. That's the way you think. One senior medal."
And that will do. Then Pauric Mahony can rest easy.