Young and hungry

You are aware of Ger Loughnane’s team of bachelors who won the 1995 All-Ireland hurling title, and going back 20 years further, the Mick O’Dwyer-coached Kerry side which caught Dublin in ’75. Youngsters, carefree and unafraid.

However, Dungarvan will field a truly fresh-faced 15 in tomorrow’s Waterford SHC final. Clubman Johnny Murphy, of this parish, points out that Waterford star Jamie Nagle is the oldest player on the team at 27, and Déise panellist Gavin Crotty is the next oldest at 23.

“They’re the youngest team ever to contest a Waterford senior hurling final. The average age of the team is 20.8 years of age; three of them are minors and six are U21s, ” says Johnny.

“It’s been a great lift to the entire area, not just the club,” says club chairman John O’Brien. “There’s been a huge buzz around the place.

“Because we have a young team we wouldn’t have huge experience in the side at senior level, if you like. We’ve been contesting minor finals in recent years with a lot of those players, and even if we haven’t won those games we can still draw on that experience. Going further down the line we’ve been having good success so there are good signs for the future, it looks like not only have we got a good young team now but what’s coming through at minor and below will be challenging them to hold their places.

“What’s been a big help all year though is that the lads just love hurling. That might sound simplistic but in reality it means you’re not hunting fellas out to training or trying to round them up for games – they’re always there, they have a great attitude and they’ll do anything they’re asked to improve themselves.”

They’re up against another good side tomorrow. De La Salle were many people’s tip for success in Waterford early in the year and they’re heavily favoured for their third title.

“They’re a very good combination,” says O’Brien. “Kevin Moran and John Mullane were on all the experts’ intercounty team of the year and are exceptional players, while six or seven other players on their selection are past or present Waterford players.

“From that point of view they’re entitled to be favourites – they’ve won two counties in recent years, two Munster club titles and were very unlucky not to get an All-Ireland club title in their last run.”

Dungarvan are realistic. When you point out that Dungarvan keeper Darren Duggan was the star of their semi-final win, John O’Brien points out that he “might be even busier tomorrow”, adding: “Any team that’s up against John Mullane knows they’ve a huge job on their hands to keep him quiet. We know that well. But we’ve also told the players to enjoy themselves, particularly with the build-up in the last week. It’s 60 years since we were last in a county final and it’s a huge honour for any player in any county to represent his club in a senior final, so we’re just hoping the lads can do themselves justice.”

It’s been a wait, as O’Brien says. You have to go back to 1951 to find the last Dungarvan team to contest a Waterford senior hurling final, and they won their only senior hurling title ten years before that again.

“We have survivors from the 1951 team,” says Johnny Murphy.

“Tom Cunningham, who won an All-Ireland with Waterford in 1959, Michael Kelly and Gary Morrissey are still with us. We’ve nobody left from the 1941 team.”

They haven’t been idle in the last 60 years. Dungarvan mightn’t have been marching behind the band on county final day in hurling, but they turned to the big ball and collected enough Waterford senior football titles to head the roll of honour.

“In hurling we went through a bad patch from the sixties through the seventies,” says Murphy. “But the club put a huge emphasis on a youth policy starting about 20 years ago, and that’s paying dividends now.”

He’s not exaggerating. When Johnny Murphy looks to establish a form line through the performances of Fourmilewater, for instance, the Dungarvan underage conveyor belt is still fresh in the mind.

“Fourmile came through their (senior hurling) group unbeaten – including a five-point win over De La Salle. We topped our group and beat Fourmile in the semi-final by three points. So that’s a common denominator, and all the pressure is on De La Salle. Since we beat Fourmilewater, by the way, we beat Ballygunner in a classic U16 county final; earlier this week we beat De La Salle in the minor hurling county semi-final; and we’re in the senior final. That shows the level of talent that’s coming through in Dungarvan.”

Seasoned observers say this county final has come a year or two too soon for Dungarvan, and they may be right. The western side were available at 100-1 earlier this year.

But with a team that young and talent like that coming through, the breakthrough will surely come soon.

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