Wallace comes full circle

All-Ireland SHC Quarter-Final
Cork v Antrim, tomorrow, 2pm (Croke Park)

JERRY WALLACE had an inkling ahead of his meeting with Dinny Cahill in Horse and Jockey at the fag-end of December, and he wasn’t far wrong.

Cahill had been invited back to manage the Antrim hurlers and wanted Wallace, who’d been the Cork hurlers’ physical trainer for seven years, to come with him.

The Midleton native agreed, but there were speed bumps along the way.

“Obviously I hadn’t a clue where some of the venues were in Antrim,” says Wallace. “Then there was a language barrier. I talk pretty fast but there’s an agreement that if I get excited and start to speed up, one of the Antrim lads gets me to slow down.

“Of course, they can be hard enough to understand themselves at times...”

They’ve understood plenty.

Tomorrow they take on Cork, Wallace’s old team. Have any of the Cork players been in touch? “There’s been no talk between any of us – if there’s anything on my phone, then I haven’t checked it.

“The only time I’ve mentioned Cork was last Thursday night, which was specific preparation for tomorrow’s game. I’d have huge respect for all the Cork players I worked with and would hope that goes both ways.

“But now we’re in a game scenario and I’m with Antrim.”

It’s been a fruitful relationship, culminating with the dramatic late win over Dublin to get them to this All-Ireland quarter-final at headquarters.

“We needed to get to know each other – I’ve had to get 45 lads’ names, and nicknames, but now we have a good relationship. Winning will do that.

“We felt one championship victory against a big county would motivate hurlers in Antrim, and we started our league with two wins. We lost the next three games – but each by a point, and with 14 men in each of those.

“We had a good training weekend in Cork, where we played a club team, a divisional team and the Cork U21s, and then we had three weeks to prepare for Offaly.”

Antrim were winning the Offaly game with seconds left but conceded what Wallace describes as a “debatable” free and were beaten in extra time.

“That refreshed everything, though,” he says. “The Offaly game gave us belief.”

That was shown when they agreed to play Dublin in Croke Park ahead of the Dublin footballers.

“We looked at it this way – we contacted the players about the venue, Portlaoise was suggested as a double-header with Tipp-Offaly, but the players wanted to play in Croke Park. Where else would you want to play if you’re a GAA man?”

Vindication came with the one-point win.

Wallace points to the progressive attitude in Antrim, where a centre of excellence is being planned by the county board, and suggests an interesting addition for the equivalent centre which is planned on Leeside.

“I did seven and a half years with Cork – I came in with Sean McGrath and we had a great working relationship, and before I came in back in 2003 I’d have met our predecessor, Teddy Owens, for a chat – Sean would have known him well also.

“In 2006 Sean left but I met him before that and he passed on the information he had on players – their physical profiles and so on. That amazed me when I was no longer required – that nobody sought the results of the physical testing that we carried out, which would have helped formulate the training programmes.

“When Cork GAA creates a centre of excellence it should consider a library of information like that – the physical test results from the elite squads of teenagers and so on.

“A child that goes to school has a roll call every day, and that forms the basis of the report at the end of the year. This would be the same thing. A manager would see the results of a kid’s physical tests from the age of 14 through to minor and so on. I’d love it if Cork could grasp that concept.”

There’s a 10-hour round trip for Wallace every evening he heads north to Antrim. He leaves at noon and after the post-training meal and a chat with the backroom team in the Glens, he often sees dawn break as he rolls back into Midleton. He breaks the journey at a 24-hour garage near Dublin, where spotting the undercover gardaí sipping coffee is about the height of the entertainment. But tomorrow is the ultimate reward for those long journeys.

He jokes about wearing a Cork top to entice Denis Walsh’s team to his end of the field for the warm-up, but he ends on a sober note.

“We’re looking for a good performance,” says Wallace.

“Let the result look after itself."


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