He shook his head. A red and white band flopped down from the rim of his hat. A gesture of respect to Cork, he explained; but this man was true blue, a Déise devotee to the core.
He had been on a cloud of euphoria since Sunday’s final whistle. Two days later it was still barely sinking in.
“It’s hard to even talk,” he said, as his eyes filled with tears. “We all cry tears when we’re sad, but I can’t stop crying every time I even think of it. They’re tears of happiness. I think we can do it. I think this is our year. It’s very emotional for me. I don’t know what else to say.”
Two weeks later and emotions in Waterford are running even higher. The countdown to Sunday is charged with anticipation.
83-year-old Matt Cowman has been a hurling fan since childhood. At that time it wasn’t like it is now, with kids having collections of sports equipment.
“We didn’t even have actual hurleys,” he says. “We’d cut sticks from the trees and make our own.”
A Waterford win would mean the world to him. He is lost for words as he tries to explain how he’d feel about that. His daughter Michelle takes the phone.
“He couldn’t talk for a minute there,” she explains. “There’s a lot of tears about that final around here.”
Matt’s dedication to the Waterford hurling team has stayed the course. In early summer 2006, the Cowman family were on particular tenterhooks. Most of the family were focused not on the hurling calendar, however, but on Matt’s health. He wasn’t doing so well. He was on the waiting list for a kidney, had been on dialysis for the previous nine years. Time was ticking by and Matt’s family were worried sick. In a move more about clutching at straws than anything else, his daughter Susan went to see a fortune teller.
“I’ve something to tell you,” she said to her father after. “The fortune teller, he told me you’re going to have some very good news in September.” Matt clenched his fists with relief. “Thank God,” he said. “Waterford are going to win the All Ireland!”
Matt got his new kidney that autumn, his health is much better these days, but he’s still waiting for the September win for Waterford. The ultimate good news for Matt would be the right result for his beloved hurlers. He’s too emotional to be able to put words on how much it would mean to him.
Mother-of- three Sinead Cheevers, says hurling in Waterford is about so much more than just the sport. Sinead, who grew up surrounded by hurling, remembers the sounds of the clash of the ash when, as a young girl, she would walk her dog around Mount Sion hurling pitch. Her brother played at U21 level, her father-in- law is a county medal winner and her three sons play. Sinead, husband David and sons Ziggy, Rudi and Lennon live in Passage East, a strong hurling stronghold.
“Hurling around here is taken very seriously. It has a hugely positive influence is so many ways. When my boys, for example, see the dedication Noel Connors puts into everything he does it gives them a great example of how to live a full life. From the Waterford hurling team, down to the coaches at club level, there are great individual role models, but the GAA is also a great role model in the way it works within the community - the hours upon hours of voluntary dedication, the education it gives children about good physical and mental health, nutrition.”
A win for Waterford would mean a lot to the county, says Sinead: “It would embody that sense of Waterford being on the up. It would be about us reaching some turning point for our city and county, having something positive to aspire to at a national and community level.”
For 12-year- old camogie player Laoise Forrest, Sunday is going to be extra special. Laoise is a talented player who played for Ballygunner Primary school and is now playing for Gaultier U12, U13 and U14 as well as U14 at County level (in both camogie and football). She was thrilled to be picked as the Waterford county representative to play in the Primary School Games at Croke Park at half time on Sunday. She’ll be cheered on by her family, including her father Paul Forrest who played at county level U21, and whose own sporting career was cut short after a hurling accident. Also there to cheer her on will be another huge hurling fan, her friend, Rachel Jones.
To Laoise the chance to play at the legendary Croke Park is very exciting: “I heard I was picked in June so I didn’t know who was going to be in the final. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. It’s even better now that Waterford are one of the teams playing. Going there is a dream come true for me.”