By Jim O’Sullivan
LET’S get a misconception out of the way first. Nicky Cashin is not a Kilkenny native.
After almost three decades of service developing hurling in the famed St Kieran's College, the Marble City, and the county of the Cats, the faux pas over his origin is not an uncommon error.
But this weekend, as he prowls the line with his native county in a Munster SHC Final, his Waterford birthright will be plain to see.
He hurled at senior level for the county from 1975 to 1981 dark days in the sense that over that period the only wins they had were over Kerry (twice). But it was his work outside the white lines with St. Kieran's which gained him national prominence. So much so he was chosen to train the Waterford minor side in 1995 that reached the Munster final but lost to Cork.
However, his managerial career took off two years ago with the minors in his adopted county when they won the All-Ireland for the first time in ten years. Satisfied that he had achieved his objective, he decided to move away. Shortly after the call came to join Justin McCarthy.
"I think he's a great coach and he has a fantastic love for hurling," Cashin says of the Waterford boss. "If the GAA were to ever consider a director of hurling, he's the man for it because he has the passion, the experience and the knowledge. And he has a tremendous way of working with players.
"Wherever he has gone, he has proven it. Even though I have been involved in hurling all my life I have learned so much from working with him.'' Looking in from the outside, he was impressed by Waterford's progress up to a point. While they were 'never too far away,' he felt they were possibly being hindered by a lack of strength in depth.
"Nowadays you need a panel of 20/21 if you are to be really successful. From what I can see since starting to work at Christmas, there are probably nineteen or twenty who could go out and do themselves justice on any given day and that's a good thing.
"Obviously you'd be hoping all the time to 'up' that number. If you have 25 fellows like Kilkenny have, fighting one another for places, it would be better," he commented.
"Hurling needs new teams coming on all the time. There was a long tradition in Waterford going back over the years and for whatever reason it probably faded away. That can happen if you don't work at hurling. It's the nature of it. For me now, it's good to try and make some small contribution and see the relative success although obviously unless there is silverware you can't say you are successful."
The current management team has worked well together and he credits new trainer Gerry Fitzpatrick (better known in basketball circles) with making a huge contribution. "He's very understated but very professional,'' he adds.
"People wondered how we managed to turn around the team after losing in the League final. But, in fairness, the championship is the championship and we set out our stall at the very start. We were hoping for a good run in the League and it would be a bonus if we got to the play-off stages. Games came in rapid succession and we ended up in the final. But, May 16 was what was in everybody's minds and the training that Gerry had organised was primed to have the team in peak form that day.
"That's the way it worked out."
Against Tipperary, in the semi-final, he agrees that they 'almost left it behind them' after missing chances and running up a big wides total. "That wouldn't be good enough to win the final. At this level every match is a huge match and you really must take your chances when you are on top. If you don't you'll be punished and that's the way it should be."
Kilkenny people, he says, are 'just about coming around' to the view that Cork probably should have won the All-Ireland last year. Considering the amount of wides they had in the first half it's a tribute to the players that they have got back to another Munster final.
"Some people say you have to lose one to win one. I think that experience will stand to Cork this year."