‘I had tears in my eyes’

BROKEN hurleys and soaked jerseys. Grazed knuckles and the salt tang of sweat. Defeated dressing-rooms share a lot of elements.

Last Sunday, though, there was something different in the Waterford dressing-room after the All-Ireland semi-final defeat.

After manager Davy Fitzgerald and captain Stephen Molumphy thanked the team for their efforts during the season, long-serving Dan Shanahan stood up.

“It was fairly emotional,” he says. “I told the lads that it was probably my last time being in the dressing-room with them, lads I’d soldiered with for years.

“I’ve been in the same dressing-room as Ken McGrath for nearly 20 years, going back to Waterford underage teams. Tony (Browne) was playing with Waterford for years before I came in.

“I told them I’d made fantastic friends and appreciated everything that we’d done together and that they’d done for me. I had tears in my eyes while I was talking, I’ve no problem saying that.”

Shanahan has been involved with the Waterford senior hurlers since 1996 and was an integral part of their 21st-century renaissance, winning four Munster medals, three All Stars, a NHL medal and the 2007 Hurler of the Year award.

He feels they’re a lot better off now than when he joined, though.

“If you look at it, when we came onto the team back in 1998, it took us four years to get there. We won matches but we didn’t win a trophy. Now the young lads have medals in their back pockets. They’ve been to Croke Park and played in the All-Ireland series, they’ve won the Munster championship. The likes of Maurice (Shanahan), Noel Connors, Tomas Ryan, Bryan O’Halloran... they’re the future for Waterford and they’re starting off at a higher level than we were at when we were their age. I’d have no fear of the future with them.”

He says there’s no comparison between the preparations when he made his first appearance in a Waterford dressing-room, 14 years ago, and the level of dedication that’s needed now, and credits the Waterford County Board for supporting their players unreservedly over the years.

Not all the changes have been for the better, however.

“You only had to see what happened to Eoin Kelly’s young lad last Sunday, when some ‘supporter’ abused him after the game. That’s disgraceful carry-on. The same lad would probably have been the first one cheering if Eoin had scored a goal against Tipp. For myself. I’d like to thank the genuine Waterford supporters for backing us over the years – the people who are there through thick and thin. It was an honour to represent them and I hope they had some good days – and nights – following us.”

The big Lismore man won’t be idle long. He and his teammates have a date with Tallow this evening in the Waterford county championship. A hard posting after an All-Ireland defeat.

“Not at all,” he says. “I’m looking forward to that immensely – we’ll be back to the flaking and the name-calling, I can’t wait for that. That’s one good side of retiring from intercounty. I’ll be able to give more to the club. You’d miss a lot of training sessions and challenge games when you’re away.

“But it’s not just the senior team Some of the lads who trained me when I was 11 or 12 are still involved, and I’d like to help them out now in the same way. I owe the lads up in Lismore a lot and want to pay that back.”

Lismore’s younger hurlers won’t be the only ones enjoying a dividend from Shanahan’s retirement. His family can expect to see more of him as well.

“Myself, Colette (partner) and Chloe (daughter) haven’t been away for a decent holiday together, so that’s something else to do. When you’re training a few times a week and committed to games from February to August with the county, or September-October with the club, your options are fairly limited, so we’ll actually be able to make it away for a summer holiday next year!”

It was disappointing to go out on a defeat, he says, but perspective wasn’t long arriving in the dressing-room.

Ken McGrath had to race from Croke Park to Cork to be with his three-year-old daughter, who’d been attacked by a dog the day before.

“He was very upset afterwards,” says Shanahan. “Naturally enough. She’s doing better now thank God – to play the way he did last Sunday, though, with that hanging over him shows the measure of the man. But it showed us all what’s really important.”

He’s putting the finishing touches to his autobiography, which will be in the shops come October. In it he’ll deal with Waterford’s roller-coaster journey through the championship over the last dozen or so years. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Croke Park at half-five last Sunday was a low, but he pays tribute to Tipp boss Liam Sheedy’s generosity when he visited the Waterford dressing-room.

“He’s a genuine guy,” said Shanahan. “He spoke from the heart. You could tell.”

He’s not the only one.

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