‘I’m just so proud of those lads’

It was tough for Waterford manager Michael Ryan and his players after this season-ending loss to walk the tunnel in the bowels of the Kinnane Stand and carry out his various media duties, his stomach churning.

‘I’m just so proud of those lads’

As his players had done on the pitch though, so Michael did afterwards and fronted up, but when he finally came to stand before the print hacks, that emotion was beginning to show. A little, just a little.

“Absolutely gutted,” he said. “We genuinely believed we were going to win. We had no doubt about it. We prepared very, very well. We weren’t worried about who we were playing against.

“We knew Kilkenny were a formidable team but we had great belief in ourselves. We worked really hard. We had a lot of young fellas on the team and we set our stall out early on.”

For those who would criticise the manner in which they tried to short-pass their way out of defence, he has an answer: “There was no point hawking high ball down on top of Kilkenny.

“We used the ball well, at times very well. Maybe the deciding factor was the early minutes of extra-time when they had a bit of composure. They got some great scores and we were left to play catch up again but we came back with another goal and fought to the end. It was a tremendous game, a tribute to Kilkenny and Waterford. I’m just so proud of those lads in the dressing room.”

While tribute is paid elsewhere to the job done by Brian Cody and his management team this year, it’s arguable that Michael and his backroom staff have been even more remarkable. We all know about all the marquee names who have retired in the last few years but worse was to come.

“When we played Clare in the first round of the National League, four of those forwards were unavailable tonight, plus Stephen Daniels [outstanding corner-back].”

Then you add in the fact that on Saturday three of those who managed to take the field, and were performing superbly, failed to finish.

“Richie Foley is only back after a couple of operations, put in a fantastic performance [off in the 60th minute]; Darragh [Fives] got a bang on the leg, he was carrying that [replaced by Tony Browne, 68th minute].

“Kevin Moran was outstanding. He cramped up at the end and couldn’t go on any more. The amount of times he raced up and down the field was phenomenal. He was a great captain for us. A great player.”

Think of all those losses from the current panel, and remember how close Waterford came on Saturday evening. No wonder then that Michael Ryan was proud, no wonder he is determined to bring Waterford hurling to new heights.

“No question about it. It’s up to the county board but my name will be in the hat, as will the rest of the management team. I don’t think the benefits of this performance will be seen until next year and the years ahead.

“A lot of Waterford hurlers came of age and proved they can go toe-to-toe with the very best. We’ll keep driving this on. A lot of good hurlers there and this game was in the melting pot. It was as good a battle as ever was played out there. There’s a lot of work to be done, we’re not there yet but we’ll take great heart from it and drive forward.

“We were very much up there as regards performance but not the result. I’m not a person who gets tremendously frustrated. We’ll look at it, learn and come back again. I was in charge of Waterford ladies football teams who lost four or five Munster finals to Kerry but we kept at it and kept going. And this team will come back.”

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