You could find the date and root out the result, laughs Dan Shanahan. The occasion was a national hurling league game between Waterford and Wexford years ago, when Shanahan spent a tricky afternoon in Liam Dunne’s company. The lessons stayed with him longer than the scoreline.
“Liam’s a good bit smaller than me but he was a tough, tough competitor. I remember that day in Wexford Park well, he let me know he was around when the first ball dropped. I learned plenty about senior hurling over the course of the afternoon, he was a good teacher.”
Different stations now for the two men, who’ll shake hands before Wexford and Waterford play in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium. Shanahan is a selector with the Waterford team licking their wounds after a rough Munster final against Tipperary; Dunne the Wexford manager who masterminded a first championship win over Cork in over half a century.
“Liam’s done a great job with Wexford,” says Shanahan.
“I think it’s a bit unfair on him and his team, the way there’s been such a focus on Cork since the two teams played. Maybe Cork aren’t what they were, but in fairness to Liam, getting a first championship win (over Cork) in 60 years was some achievement. Ever since then people have been asking what’s going on with Cork, but it was Wexford’s night. They did what was asked of them.
“You have to take into account the way Cork beat Wexford last year in the qualifiers, too. They might have only won by eight at the end but they were well on top of Wexford early on in that game. To put that result away and be able to go out then and win the way they did — remember, Cork came back at them a couple of weeks ago, too, when Daniel Kearney got a goal — was a huge performance.
“It was up for grabs when they conceded that goal but they were able to get those few points for the win, in fairness. That showed great spirit, great guts when it counted. A lot of them are the same lads who were there last year, which makes Liam’s performance as manager even more impressive, getting that performance out of them.”
Your perspective changes with your job, says the big man from Lismore: The stresses of the sideline are a common theme for management.
“Everyone’s an expert in the stand, or the pub, or at home watching on the television. It’s a different story when you’re on the sideline in Thurles or somewhere with thousands of people roaring down on top of you to make a change. Because of that experience you’d always have that bit of sympathy with other managers and selectors, they know what’s involved. You’d know the pressure they’re under because you get a dose of it yourself from time to time. Or more often that, maybe.”
Waterford saw Wexford’s spirit up close in the NHL quarter-finals last April. The youngest of the Shanahan brothers, Maurice, needed to chip in with a late, late free to get Waterford into the league semi-finals after an intense battle.
“We were slow to get into that game but credit Wexford, they didn’t let us settle. They were six points ahead at one stage in the first half and going well. Eventually we got the win, but it was a tough game.
“We knew about Conor McDonald before that, but he showed us up close how good he was, he got the Wexford goal that day.”
It hasn’t escaped Shanahan that Wexford thrived by going direct against Cork — much as Tipperary did in the Munster final against Waterford — with McDonald an impressive target man up front.
“We’ve spent plenty of time with the video of both games. We’d seen Conor in the league quarter-final, as I say, but against Cork he was excellent, they never really got to grips with him. He fielded one ball late on and laid it off for a vital score when it looked like the game was going against Wexford and it really kept them in it. That’s a huge asset for any team, to know that you have a big physical forward who can win dirty ball on his own if his team-mates are under pressure.”
The league finalists have rinsed the Munster final defeat out of their system, Shanahan feels: The big win enjoyed by the U21s last week against Clare was a help.
“We keep saying it and I suppose people are sick of hearing it, but the team’s still very young. They have to learn, and you can only learn through games. Some of them have already played in three league finals, including a replay, two Munster finals, an All-Ireland semi-final. When we were playing it took us a long time to get that experience under our belts, and we were mature by the time we did. A good few of our lads are still playing U21. The benefit of being that young, though, was that they got to play in the U21 game in Walsh Park last Wednesday week, and they were very good in fairness — particularly the lads who had been in the senior Munster final.
“They’re not always going to get it right — even the most experienced players make mistakes — but we can’t fault their application and their honesty. They drove it on again in training over the last couple of weeks, the U21s gave the whole county a lift with a fantastic display, we have no complaints on that score, but we’d just hope the supporters would take that into consideration — these guys still have a lot to learn.”
Tomorrow is another lesson, in the most testing conditions. The summer will end for one team from the southeast in mid-afternoon.
“It’s knock-out now,” says Shanahan. “We want to get back on track after the Munster final, Wexford will want to keep their good run going...it’s a massive challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”
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