Have you met anybody who, hand on heart, really thinks that Waterford can win. Well I have and this man should know. He has been believing all his life and his belief has got Waterford over the finish line before. He’s the last man to train an All-Ireland winning adult team inWaterford all of 16 years ago.
That U21 team which was coached by Peter Power and had as fellow selectors Tony Mansfield and Joey Carton faced odds as long as those that the senior team will face tomorrow.
The battle for respect is as fresh in his mind now as it was in that seminal year of 1992. In Waterford’s last all-conquering campaign there were a host of legends from other counties to topple both on and off the field. A Brian Corcoran-inspired Cork were dispatched along with a hotly fancied Clare team with ironically, Davy Fitz in goal and coached by Ger Loughnane.
However the real hurdle for that U21 team lay ahead in the All-Ireland final. “Offaly had a very hot team,” recalls Power. “They had Brian Whelahan, John Troy, Hubert Rigney, Kevin Kinehan and Johnny Dooley and were the hottest of favourites to win. The first day was a draw. We introduced Paul Flynn, still a minor, for the replay and this helped to swing it our way. We won fairly well in the end. The minors had also got to the All-Ireland final that year so it was supposed to be the beginning of something big at senior level but it wasn’t really. It took longer than anybody thought.”
That generation has passed — almost. Though a lot of them won Munster senior medals, the only ones left now are Tony Browne and Paul Flynn. Mention of them makes Power wistful.
“Tony was a great leader in that team — an exceptional man then and an exceptional man now. And Paul...well he’s the best Waterford forward I ever saw and I saw Frankie Walsh and Philly Grimes and a lot more besides.
‘‘There’s something magical about Flynn. He has a certain amount of Christy Ring in him with the skill level. He could win a game for you.”
Power was there as a young man in 1963 when Waterford last contested a final and remembers the skills of Martin Óg Morrissey, Philly Grimes and Frankie Walsh. It was their third final in a seven year period and the end of that team.
In the 45-year period since, Waterford have watched in pain as county after county got to the final, but not them. So the obvious question, Peter? Why? “Too many sweat men. I saw a few of our hurlers over the years who could have won the 10,000 metres in the Olympics but their hurling was too slow. Sometimes the men in charge were ‘sweat men’. To me hurling is a simple game. It’s 60% skill, 20% attitude and 20% fitness. If I put Usain Bolt in left half forward Sunday and told him to run around the place, he wouldn’t get much of a smell of it now would he?”
Power is a gregarious, fun-loving hurling passionate man. If Waterford are to end their period in the wilderness tomorrow, he will not bemoan the loss of his title as ‘the last winning coach’. For in a sense Peter’s life’s work is tied up in this team. He has coached almost the entire panel in a coaching career spanning over 30 years. When county boards, even in traditional counties, were sluggish in committing coaches to primary schools in the late 80’s, Waterford were the brand leaders appointing Power as primary schools coach to the west of the county and Joey Carton to the east. “Brother Griffey from Clare should get the credit for starting that schools coaching scheme. He said ‘Light a match and an inferno will follow’ and how right he was.”
In his time as primary schools coach Peter lit many fires under people like Seamus and Declan Prendergast, Michael Walsh, Eoin Murphy, Aidan ‘Ringo’ Kearney to name but a few. “The thing that gives me most happiness about the scheme is that it was welcomed into previously almost exclusively football areas such as with the Prendergasts in Ardmore and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh in Stradbally. It helped to make hurlers out of lads who, if the status quo had remained the same would never have caught a hurley, not to mind play in an All Ireland final.
“Walsh has lifted my heart. I remember him as a 10-year-old and I used to say to him ‘Brick you will play for Waterford,’ and he’d say ‘I know Peter but it will be in football’. (Former Waterford manager) Justin (McCarthy) made hurlers out of footballers.
“For attitude the Prendergasts are unreal. When they were kids training on the school yard (they were nearly as big then as they are now) and if you said to them to ‘climb up the side of the wall backwards’ they’d do it in a heartbeat. They are the most honest men you will ever meet. Every drop will come out of them on Sunday, of that you can be sure. I hope they get their reward.”