Over 30 minutes in the company of Dan Shanahan and it’s clear one of the many things he will bring to the Waterford group this week is levity. Few are spared his withering wit.
Derek McGrath: “He lived the college life, lads, I’ll put it like that. I’ll leave your imagination run there.”
The 27-year-old Noel Connors: “I think Noel is still in college — I don’t know what he’s doing there but he’s still there!”
Michael Walsh: “He’s the first fella on the field, he’s the last fella off. I’d say it’s because he wants the kids in bed before he goes home!”
Austin Gleeson: “(Against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final), when I came on, he did say ‘just get me the ball’. I said it to Derek and he said he should win his own fucking ball!”
Shanahan doesn’t escape himself either. Without hurling, where would he be?
“I would probably be locked up, to be honest with you. I wouldn’t say I’d be locked up — I’m blackguarding — but it kept me on the straight and narrow. It kept me away from the bad side of the social life and kept me focused.”
He uses humour to make his point about the physique of the modern day inter-county hurler. Galway have big men but then so too do Waterford, he insists.
“When you’re 6ft and you can hurl it’s better than being 5’8” and being able to hurl. They’re big men plus they have Tipperary’s strength and conditioning coach, the Polish lad (Lukasz Kirszenstein). He knows what to bring to get them there. We have Gary Walsh and Fergal O’Brien and our lads have massive conditioning. It took us four years to get that conditioning.
“I looked at a picture of Tadhg de Búrca when he first came onto the panel and you look at him and the other lads now, they’re colossal. They’re all ripped. They’ve all got six packs. We had six packs alright but they were in our gear-bags!”
Shanahan is far from the court jester, though. There’s a reason he’s outlasted other selectors. He’s been there and done that, for one. He knows what regret is.
“I wouldn’t say the sweeper system but the work rate they have now, we wouldn’t have had it when I was playing. If we did have that, we would have won a bit more.”
Before Waterford broke their Kilkenny hoodoo last month, he had also felt the neighbours’ lash too many times.
“I just got a feeling going into the Kilkenny game that our lads were fed up of Kilkenny beating us and disrespecting us and laughing at us.”
As a former hurler of the year winner, he could pass on advice to Gleeson about the perils attached to the award and the attention it brings.
“It’s more the pressure that comes with it, that you’re expected to perform every day. That’s the pressure I put myself under. You’re expecting then ‘why can’t I go back to ’07 when I was playing well and getting goals — what’s happening?’ I was working harder than I was in ’07 but it just wasn’t happening for me. I then took every game as it came and didn’t put myself under pressure.
“He won these awards at 21. I was 30 so I was a bit more experienced. Everything he’s taken in his stride. He won’t get carried away by being the ambassador for this or that. He would ask Derek could he do this and could he do that and that’s a great sign of the young fella.”
That his younger sibling Maurice Shanahan hasn’t been able to break into the team, while making telling impacts coming off the bench, is no laughing matter either.
“The one thing I want to re-emphasise and the one thing I’ll always say is that because I’m there, I won’t say Maurice Shanahan has to start. We look at his form, look at every fella’s form, what way he’s playing, how he’s playing.
“He’s probably known at the moment as the impact sub, if I’m being honest with you. Does he like it? No, so he doesn’t. It has never affected us. We do very little talking about it at home so we don’t. My mother and father would never ask me. Of course it’s tough when you call out the team and he’s not starting but that’s sport. You have to treat everyone the same.”
Without naming names, Shanahan has publicly chided a few of his old team-mates who have condemned Waterford’s style.
He wouldn’t have done so without reason, he points out, but he hasn’t lost friendships as a result.
“The fellas you’re on about, I would never fall out with a fella over any comment. I might not be here… when I’m gone, they can come in here and do what I’m doing and see how tough it is. And see what the lads give and what Derek gives to pick his system and to win games. The days we played 15 v 15, we still didn’t win it.
“Every man I’ve played with is entitled to his comment. Do I agree with it? No. But that’s the way it is. But it’s only when you come in and sit down and see what you’re trying to do to get results, who’s to say we won’t go 15 against 15 the next day? But I have the utmost result for those lads. Can I have a pint with them? I’d like to think I can.”
And then there’s the sheer presence of Shanahan on the sideline. Not that McGrath needs legitimacy but the sight of the active Lismore man in shorts gives the impression of Waterford having a 16th man on the sideline.
“Sometimes I have to get wound up myself before I go out. The energy I bring on the line sometimes gets out on the field as well. You’ll see that. Even the last day, with Diarmuid O’Sullivan going on and me going on as well at the same time, I didn’t want him saying anything to my players the same as he didn’t want… I’m not going to let any lad say anything to them. I would never say anything to any Cork player. I’d shake his hand before I said anything.
“But it’s very hard for us to get our message to say, our full-back line. You’ve fourth officials on your back and you’ve Derek behind you saying ‘go on to the field’. So it’s tough going.”
Easier, though, with a smile. Easier when you’re Dan.
Earliest memory of Derek McGrath
“I would have played minor with Derek. I will never forget the day I was getting a bit of stick in a Munster final, Derek just came out and said, ‘Don’t listen to them. Don’t worry, keep going.’ It’s something I always remember about Derek. He was a fantastic hurler underage. We have a good dynamic together. Little and large maybe!”
“The relationship with Davy, I could see where he was coming from at the time. I thought I was going well, he didn’t think so. And maybe that was hard for me to take. Hindsight is a great thing. He was trying to bring his game plan in. Lads including myself and Ken (McGrath) maybe as well, we were there and starting one week and then we were gone and they didn’t like it. But he’s done it with Clare. He’s done it with Wexford.”
2008 All-Ireland final
“His (Fitzgerald’s) preparation going into the All-Ireland final was top class. We didn’t get carried away or anything like that. It’s just on the day the performance and the tactics didn’t work. Some key men were asked to hit some key players in Kilkenny and it didn’t work for us and they were two or three goals up before we knew it.”
“They had a few drinks after the Kilkenny game and rightly so. Previous to that, I can’t remember the last time they did. And they don’t want it, they want to win trophies. You see Kilkenny do it over the years. They enjoy it, there’s no problem with that, lads. The game has changed. I’d like to turn back the clock and get another All-Ireland final appearance as a player and I’d rather do what I have to do.”
What it means
“People have passed away that have given a lifetime to the GAA that are looking down on us hoping we’ll get over the line on Sunday. Please God, we’ll get a result for them.”
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