It’s a natural watershed. October is county final time all over the country, an obvious point in the calendar for officials, players, and supporters to take a step back andevaluate the year.
Unless they’re playing in the county final, of course, but we’ll come to that. In Waterford, county board chairman Paddy Joe Ryan has had a busy few weeks. When senior hurling managerParaic Fanning stepped down after just a year in the job, Waterford had to replace him.
Tipperary’s U20 (and U21) All-Ireland-winning manager Liam Cahill will patrol the sideline for the Déise next year.
“We had a reasonable process,” says Ryan now. “What I’m happiest about is that the people in Waterford are happy with it. I’ve had no complaints about it at all. There is a feeling within the county that we fare better with an outside manager.
“Justin (McCarthy), Gerald (McCarthy) and Davy (Fitzgerald) proved that. That feeling is there. The (Waterford) U21 and minor teams which won those All-Ireland titles, we didn’t get enough out of them, but we have the nucleus of a good team still.
“When Gerald and Justin came in, we hadn’t won anything since the U21 and minor teams of 1992, so we’re in a similar scenario in terms of players coming through to the senior team and being mature.
“From listening to Liam (Cahill) and speaking to him, he’s a good guy and with his backroom team — he’s still putting together some bits and pieces — he’s done huge work already and I’m really looking forward to seeing how we go next season.”
Cahill will have local know-how alongside him in two Stephens, Molumphy and Frampton.
I saw Stephen Molumphy play for Ballyduff Upper against my own club in a relegation game last Sunday week and he was outstanding, his commitment and dedication knows no bounds. He was involved with Wexford recently enough and we were always hoping he’d come back and get involved with Waterford in the new set-up.
“Stephen Frampton captained Waterford on some great days and was a great servant to the county as well, so it’s a great set-up as far as we’re concerned. I know the players will respond, and hopefully we’ll have a good 2020 because of that.”
The other candidate for manager was Peter Queally, who spent years in the Waterford jersey and has forged a successful managerial career since retiring from the playing field.
Ryan pays tribute to him: “When I stepped down as chairman after nine years (in his previous term), I got one letter, and that came from Peter Queally. I have great time for Peter and my respect for him knows no bounds, but I wasn’t involved in the process of appointing the new manager — I wouldn’t have been dealing with the new manager over the course of the next few years — but there is sympathy for Peter Queally.
“We got in a committee of Irial Ó Murchu from Nemeton, Tom Feeney, Stephen Frampton and two representatives of the county board, so the county board was in the minority. We went with their recommendation but there was a sense of sadness for Peter. I’m always disappointed for those who don’t get jobs.”
Is that template — an appointment committee with outsiders — the way forward?
“I think it’s the best option because an outsider comes in and has a clear vision of something like this. You have to have county board involvement, as well, they’re the people who will be dealing with the manager who’s appointed.
“We’re also doing a strategic review of all aspects of the county board. That will involve people in business and GAA people — from the inside we think we’re doing everything right but they’ll bring a fresh perspective, an outside perspective. That’s a good template.
“We’re hoping to have a report back within three or four months — Michael Walsh (Waterford county manager) headed it up the last time and some of the recommendations were accepted, some weren’t.
“The clubs will decide, though. Whether people like it or not the clubs make the decision but we hope that when the report comes back that it gets the support it deserves, particularly when it comes to matters like the divisional boards.
“Even if you did away with those boards you would still have the divisions for a lot of competitions, competitions which are important to small clubs like Old Parish. For smaller clubs, getting to a divisional final is very important.”
Another important consideration is Walsh Park, which has been one of the central issues in the long-running stadium debate in Waterford.
“The strategic review will deal more with stuff like the structure of divisional boards than Walsh Park, which is a fait accompli at this stage,” says Ryan.
“Walsh Park is the only game in town. The policy of the GAA is to have a stadium where the population is, and 70% of the population of Waterford is inside Butlerstown.
“There are a lot of moving parts — the Government won’t support it until the GAA supports it, so getting those things in order is a challenge, but the clock is ticking and ticking fast. Liam (Cahill) has said it’s Walsh Park next year for the Munster championship. That makes up our minds on a lot of things.
“The hope would be that we’d have the stand redeveloped for the Munster championship next year, but that’s where the moving parts come in.
“We can’t start anything until we get funding sanctioned by the Government. If you start it before that, the government won’t give you money, and the banks won’t give you money unless you produce a schedule of repayments, so it’s a vicious circle.
“The main thing is the amount we have to raise ourselves. Our clubs are small and the most we can raise here is half a million to a million (euro), and I’d hope it’d be a lot less. I’d hope to have Walsh Park paid off within a couple of years, because Fraher Field needs work as well.
When I was elected chairman five years ago we were €600,000-700,000 in debt and I said we’d clear that within my five years. We cleared that within three and a half years, so I’d be very optimistic that we’ll have a great facility and clear the debt.
Ryan acknowledges it’s “unusual” to have two county grounds which are practically of identical standard, but he points to Waterford’s advantages rather than its challenges.
“People need to look at it this way — we’re debt-free in Waterford. A lot of county boards would love to be able to say that but they can’t.
“We have a clean sheet so we’re hoping to have a good structure in place going forward, which includes getting the county teams running properly, but we have to make sure the clubs are looked after.
“The work being put in by all the clubs in Waterford is huge, and that needs to be recognised. I’ve heard people say — which surprised me — that clubs must be prepared to let their players decide whether to play for their clubs or to play inter-county hurling.
“If that ever came to pass it would be disastrous for the GAA. Clubs would be bringing players from six years of age up to senior — and then handing them over to the county, the best of them? The bad players are important as well.”
In the broadest sense, is he happy with the GAA in Waterford now?
“I’m happy with the facilities, and with the teams, and with the standard of play. I was at the Division Three minor final last week and it was a fantastic standard of hurling.
“We’d all like things to be better but I’m happy clubs are working within their means. I ask them to be wary in terms of getting outside team managers, though, and to be sure not to waste money.”
Isn’t there a contradiction there in that clubs shouldn’t be paying managers in the first place?
“You’re depending on trust,” says Ryan. “You’re depending on being given the full facts. And in fairness, there are times when an outside manager will come in and rejuvenate the club, that has to be acknowledged.
“But it also happens that an outside manager means a guy in the club who could train the top team doesn’t get a chance to do so — and he ends up going to another club, so the game of musical chairs carries on.”
Fair enough. And what of tomorrow’s decider which pits six-in-a-row-chasing Ballygunner against De La Salle?
“It’s my fifth year as chairman on this tour of duty, and I’ve given them (Ballygunner) the cup every year. In 14 years as chairman tomorrow will make nine times I’ve given them the cup if they win.
“But I don’t think people — particularly people outside Waterford — realise, De La Salle are in this game with a serious, serious chance. They’re not as much of an outside shot as the bookies seem to think.
“I saw them in the league final a couple of weeks ago against Dungarvan, and they (De La Salle) were so good it was unreal. I think it might have disheartened Dungarvan for their semi-final against Ballygunner, actually, that game.
“I really think De La Salle have the capacity to cause a surprise. As chairman, you can’t say you hope one team rather than another wins, but you can certainly hope for a good game, and that’s what I’m expecting tomorrow.”