The Meath view on Waterford forward Jack Fagan: 'He stood out a mile from everyone'

Fagan took a more circuitous route to Waterford’s frontline, having initially made his debut for his native Meath in the 2015 Christy Ring Cup against Wicklow
The Meath view on Waterford forward Jack Fagan: 'He stood out a mile from everyone'

Jack Fagan celebrates after scoring Waterford's third goal against Clare at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The 2015 hurling-shinty U21 international between Ireland and Scotland was only seconds old when Jack Fagan smashed home a goal.

Austin Gleeson, already a Waterford senior, was one of the first Irish players to congratulate the Meath man and, five years on, they’re teammates again, for the Déise.

They lifted silverware that day in Inverness, with Waterford’s Colin Dunford also involved, and both Gleeson and Fagan could claim another trophy together at Croke Park next month.

Gleeson’s rise to prominence was well flagged as a boy wonder but Rathmolyon man Fagan took a more circuitous route to Waterford’s frontline, having initially made his debut for his native Meath in the 2015 Christy Ring Cup against Wicklow.

“He scored 1-5 that day, a terrible wet day in Trim,” said Martin Ennis, Meath’s manager at the time. 

“At club level, he stood out a mile from everyone, his skill level, his honesty and work-rate were through the roof and he brought that to county level and was terrific for us. 

“We actually struggled to get him that year in 2015, he was playing with IT Carlow at the time and I didn’t really get him until after the league because they wanted him and saw him as a really important player for them.

“There were plenty of conversations had and eventually we got him in for the Christy Ring and that first day against Wicklow he was absolutely outstanding, Wicklow just weren’t able for him.”

That season, Ennis brought Meath up to train on the Hill of Tara.

“Jack would have been one of the youngest there, just in the door with Meath and it sticks in my memory because he was coming first in all the sprints, up and down hills in Tara, no bother to him,” said Ennis. 

“He’s a serious athlete and you’re seeing that now with Waterford, his athleticism is incredible. But it wasn’t just that, no matter what you asked him to do he would do it, an absolute gentleman to deal with to be completely honest.”

Ennis shrugs at the suggestion that perhaps there's two or three more Jack Fagans in Meath that could cut it with a tier one county.

“Three or four? I don't know about that. There might have been one or two over the years, I'm thinking about players like Steven Clynch but I think Jack Fagan is a bit of a one-off really, he's just really gone for it and he's got his rewards and I couldn't speak highly enough of him.”

Fagan, friendly with a number of Waterford hurlers including Dunford at IT Carlow, initially transferred to the De La Salle club in 2016 though was overlooked by county managers Derek McGrath and Paraic Fanning. 

It wasn’t until Liam Cahill took over for 2020 that the half-forward got his chance and he featured in all five of their league games earlier this year, starting four, and he’s been an ever-present in their Championship lineups too.

In those eight games so far he's scored 3-5, all from play, and while Dessie Hutchinson — who created Fagan's goal against Clare last weekend with a sumptuous pass — is stealing the headlines for his scoring exploits, All-Ireland semi-final opponents Kilkenny will be wary of Fagan's goal threat too.

“Very direct,” said Ennis, summarising Fagan’s style. “If he sees an opportunity he’s going for it, and he has the pace to make it happen.”

Meath could do with Fagan now. They slumped to their third loss in this season’s Joe McDonagh Cup last weekend against Westmeath and will wrap up their campaign at home to Antrim on Saturday. If they lose to a Saffrons side looking to copperfasten their final spot against Kerry, it'll be Meath's ninth loss in nine McDonagh Cup outings since the competition was introduced.

“He’ll always be a Meath man and if he was still here he’d be the first name on your team sheet,” said Ennis. “But it was never a situation of trying to talk him out of going.

“We missed him the year he left, 2016, but we went on and won the Christy Ring Cup. We beat Antrim after a replay. Might we have won it easier with Jack involved? Who can say, really?

“Personally, I'd never try to talk a lad out of doing what he wanted to do. He was going to college in Carlow and he was friendly with Waterford lads and decided he was going to go for it. I'm sure it was a hard enough decision, it was a brave decision but he's an honest young fella and it's no surprise to me that he is where he is. If I see him playing in an All-Ireland final next month, it won't surprise me either, he's always had that sort of quality.”

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