They always remember the last man standing, the man with the match ball in his hand when the final whistle sounds. Wayne Hutchinson was that man in Thurles last November when Ballygunner finally claimed that elusive second AIB Munster club SHC title.
“It’s sitting at home now on the mantlepiece in my mother’s house and it will be there forever more,” smiled Hutchinson, who remembers the moment in vivid detail.
“I think it was the centre-back for Na Piarsaigh who’d got it and there was a lobbing ball coming down towards me. At that stage, I was talking to Philip (Mahony) and Harley (Barnes) beside me, urging them to keep it tight for the last few minutes. We just kept our line and kept protecting our full-back line because at that stage in the game, there could only be minutes left.
“Now I know when I got the ball that it was the last puck of the game, but at that stage I didn’t realise and you’re just thinking that a goal can change a game!”
It meant everything to a club which had come up short four times since its previous win in 2011. Stephen O’Keeffe and Mahony described it as their best day in hurling.
“And the two boys are quite experienced and have been out in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day,” said Hutchinson.
“It was a massive day, because the last time we’d won Munster was in 2001, and a lot of the talk around the club is always about that team that won Munster and could our team actually go on and do it. We did, and thankfully we are after creating our own bit of history. They are talking about this team now and we’re after leaving a legacy for U12s and U14s coming up in the club. They have something to look towards.”
There’s more to add to that legacy. Ballygunner return to Thurles on Saturday to play Leinster champions Ballyhale Shamrocks in the All-Ireland semi-finals. They don’t need any reminding about the scale of the challenge.
“There’s only 35 minutes between the two clubs, a bridge in Waterford dividing us, and Ballyhale is only about 15 minutes after that,” said Hutchinson. “It really is a derby. We have often played against them in challenge games but we have never played against each other in championship hurling.”
Hutchinson shrugs at the suggestion that he could be pitched in against TJ Reid.
“TJ in my book is one of the best players in the country and he’s a top bloke too. It’s going to take a good player to stop him. But it doesn’t always come down to a direct opponent either. TJ is the type of player who drifts into positions all over the pitch so it’s really about zonal marking and picking up your own spot.”
Hutchinson came close to county glory in 2015 while playing with St Jude’s in Dublin. He seemed a long way then from an All-Ireland title assault with Ballygunner.
“I absolutely did believe this would happen,” he said. “I knew the potential was in the team, no question.”