The saga came to its conclusion on Sunday, and Philip Mahony had only one word to describe the feeling.
The Ballygunner provincial title famine goes back to 2001, while Mahony and his colleagues have been knocking on the door for a decade.
How did it feel to overcome Na Piarsaigh last weekend?
“It’s relief. If you knew how much I much I thought about winning this for the last 10 years, you’d probably say I wasn’t normal.
“One thing we were always told when we were young is the easiest thing in life to do is to give up. In the last five years we came back every year and we worked harder and harder, even when we thought we couldn’t work any harder.
“We managed to try and eke out another one or two per cent, and we got over the line on Sunday.
It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life anyway. It really is. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the best feeling ever.
They had to overcome favourites who had a second-minute goal to settle them.
“I think in the last number of games especially we’ve been down a lot,” said Mahony.
“We managed to show the resolve to come back and never give in. The last game against Ballyea was crazy, and I don’t know what it was. But during this week talking to the lads I had a real feeling we were going to do it [against Na Piarsaigh]. I can’t describe how or why that was, but I thank God we did it. If we never won Munster, it would have stuck with me ‘til the day I die. If you knew how much we thought about winning this, you would say it’s not normal and not healthy. I’ve won seven Waterford championships, and every year people inside and outside Waterford question if we can do it or not. I’m speechless, just to get over the line and it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Mahony’s late goal against Ballyea was one of the turning points, given it steered that game to extra time.
“At the time it wasn’t really [significant], because we knew we had the final [to win]. Now I can look back at it and say it was great.
I remember being here in 2001, I remember exactly where I was standing and looking up at Billy [O’Sullivan] lift the cup. To fast forward 17 years and to look up and have the cup there again and back to Ballygunner is just something I’ll never forget.
It’s also a boost to Waterford hurling after an early end to the intercounty season this year.
“One hundred percent. It wasn’t a great year for Waterford, but we were representing Waterford here and if you look back to 2001 and in 2002 Mount Sion won, and De la Salle won a Munster championship there a few years ago (2010), Waterford always tend to do well after that.
“But it’s for Ballygunner here today, and to see Fergal Hartley ... he told us at the start of this year that he was going to come back, but he wouldn’t have been able to put in as much. We were saying any bit of Fergal whatsoever would have been brilliant for us, but he did the opposite.
“His wife and children must be fed up of him on the phone because he rings us 24/7 and he eats, sleeps and drinks it. To see his face after is after making everything worthwhile, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Mahony was able to appraise the difference between this year and last year’s final, when Na Piarsaigh pulled away from Ballygunner in the closing stages.
“Last year we went three points up just after half-time, we possibly got white-line fever. We made sure we learned a lesson from that.
“We took all the emotion out of it in terms of the build-up, what we wanted to do on the field. Take every single minute as it came.
That’s what we did. We did a lot of work, a lot of visualisation. Trying to get right back to where we wanted to be.
“To be in that situation this year, we drove it on. Probably got a fortuitous goal that put a little bit of a buffer between us. I’m speechless.”
The man who got that goal is brother Pauric, of course.
“Michael came on near the end, my other brother, and I’ve cousins and uncles as well,” said Mahony.
“But it’s not really about that. One thing that’s underestimated, even from people in Waterford, is how close we are. For the last three or four months, we have been living out of each other’s pockets. I just can’t wait for this winter because there have been so many years where we’ve been ... I’ve been beating myself up about a ball. Last year in the final, myself and Ian Kenny came out to it, the two of us hesitated and they got a goal from it. That’s been chewing away at us for the last 12 months.
It’s all gone now. It definitely makes it sweeter. I remember back in 2009, when I was 18 on the panel here against Newtownshandrum, we got into a position towards the end of the game where we could have won it.
“Again, at the time I thought we’d a very young team, a lot of success underage, and it might get a little bit easier. I don’t think there has ever been a team that has had to work as hard to win a provincial championship as we have. Seeing all the people around here today, how happy they are. I see David O’Sullivan over there, one of my best friends, who fought tooth and nail for years. This is for the likes of him. It’s a special moment.”
A different kind of Christmas in the club, then?
“Fergal will probably have us back training next week. I think I was ten in 2001 but I remember even back then, the spirit and the atmosphere around the club being something special. I remember being up in the school in 2001 when the lads brought the cup in — it literally was my dream that one day we’d be out and doing it.”