Tomorrow in Semple Stadium the programme will have Waterford club names you know well: Mount Sion. Ballygunner. Lismore.
And there’ll be names you’re not as familiar with. Tourin. Kinsalebeg. Colligan.
The awakening of western Waterford in hurling terms is the blossom from a seed planted by the white and blue side which captured the imagination in the noughties.
John Foley of Clashmore-Kinsalebeg can give you a quick snapshot of how that works on the ground.
“There was a match the other night at seven o’clock, and mass was on at half six, and I was chatting to a friend of mine after mass, and his young lad was hanging out of him — ‘come on, come on, we’ve to go to the field’.
“I’d say the child was only 10, but he wanted to go down to watch the game because Tadhg de Burca and Brian O’Halloran were playing.”
Those two players line out for Waterford tomorrow, of course, but the county side wasn’t always as inclusive when it came to harvesting players from that side of the Déise.
“There’s a great spread now down to the west in terms of the county team, and that wasn’t always the way, certainly,” says Ollie Wilkinson of Tourin.
“In years gone by, we had great Mount Sion teams, and when All-Irelands were being won by Waterford, they supplied the backbone of those teams. The spread of players on the team is a lot wider now, and a lot of the junior clubs are getting a look in now — you only have to look at the likes of Ballysaggart, the Shamrocks over in Knockanure, Kinsalebeg. “
Two of Wilkinson’s clubmates are on the Waterford selection tomorrow. Darragh and Shane Fives have become key members of Derek McGrath’s defensive alignment, and having Tourin men in Waterford’s white and blue raises all boats locally.
“Our club’s a very small club,” says Wilkinson. “We’d probably have the same playing numbers all the time. There’s a serious pride in the achievements of the Fives brothers, in them representing us with Waterford. The support is up, certainly — there are a lot more younger people going to the matches because of that.
“To have the two brothers, on the inter-county team, is a great achievement, and we also have a third player on the county U21 panel, which all helps with the club’s profile. There are two clubs in the parish, and our youngsters go into Cappoquin to play, but they all look up to the Fives brothers and the example that they give.
“It’s been fantastic for the area in particular — and for Waterford in general — to have the hurlers going so well. There’s definitely been a spin-off in terms of the interest everyone is taking. The Fives family goes back in this area, too — we won a county title back in 1950 and four Fives brothers were on it, the father and uncle of the current lads. They were all part of that.”
Head south in the direction of Youghal from Tourin GAA and you’ll soon come to the constituency Clashmore- Kinsalebeg draw from.
Club secretary John Foley points out that they were once better known as a football club, but the arrival of Tadhg de Burca and Brian O’Halloran on the county senior hurling panel has shifted the balance of power in the area.
“When Tadhg (de Burca) and Brian (O’Halloran) came to prominence, young lads like that, then the younger kids would prefer to have the hurley in their hands, nearly, to the football. We’d have a hard core of lads and it’s no bother getting them in, like many other clubs. In fairness, we’re not short of numbers, we probably field more teams nowadays than we did going back the years — people are more mobile now, of course, everyone has a car and can come down from Cork or Waterford or wherever they’re working.
“But Tadhg and Brian are a mighty asset to the club in every way — as an example to the kids of what they can achieve, as players on our teams, obviously, and even in terms of drawing people to the games.
“They boost the support — if they’re playing for us, in between training and playing for Waterford, then there are always more people there to watch them.
“And Tadhg winning the awards last year (de Burca collected an All-Star and the Young Hurler of the Year gongs), sure the kids idolise him. You can see it in the schools, at the field. He’s a hero.”
Head back towards Dungarvan from Clashmore before hanging a left to reach Colligan Rockies, and they’ll echo the others’ sentiments.
“No doubt about it, the achievements of the Ken McGraths and the Dan Shanahans a few years ago, what they did for the county is massive,” says Patsy Coffey of Colligan.
“Young lads took up hurleys who would never have thought of going hurling, and the fruit of that is there next Sunday, Waterford in a second league final in a row.
“In our own place a young lad like Colin would have been a little boy, hurling around the back garden, but he’d have been looking at those Munster finals with Cork in 2003, 2004 and so on. That was inspirational for that whole generation of youngsters, when they saw what the adults were achieving.”
Colin is Colin Dunford, the Colligan man who’s key for Waterford tomorrow. The way Coffey sees it, for Dunford and his contemporaries, those big games a decade ago “were bound to fire them up”.
“Those were huge events, those big games then. It’s a pity we never won the All-Ireland, that would have been the ultimate, but that doesn’t take away from the occasions we had. Those were games with a carnival atmosphere. It was insane, huge hype, massive crowds — sure if that wouldn’t get young lads inspired, nothing would.
“It’s not just the current senior panel either — there are a lot of lads in club hurling across the county who mightn’t be on the Waterford team but they’re very good hurlers. Standards are higher all around.”
Dunford is keeping that cycle going now in Colligan, just as de Burca and O’Halloran are with Kinsalebeg, and the Fives brothers with Tourin.
“Colin’s a lovely lad, very humble, there’s no blow from him,” says Coffey.
“We had a field day last year and he came along to present medals, he must have been there hours handing them out and standing in for photographs, not a bother.
“It’s brilliant for us to have him, it’s worth a huge amount to us — and the same for the other small clubs you’re talking to. We’re never going to compete with the likes of Mount Sion and Ballygunner, they have a massive history, but when we have lads involved on a county panel, it’s huge for us.
“We had lads involved before — Jimmy Beresford played for Waterford in the 90s — and it always gives the whole club a boost to have a county player. It helps the club to feel that while we’re small, we’re mighty.”
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