Mahony adjusts to life at the top as Ballygunner aim to go again

“Things became a lot easier for the fact that you had achieved something so big.”

Better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Last April Pauric Mahony was scheduled to attend the medal presentation for Ballygunner’s All-Ireland victory. The Saturday evening in question had by then morphed into the date for the league final between Waterford and Cork.

So, instead of a big celebratory night with the club, Mahony and the Waterford hurlers had to content themselves with a league title and park that achievement with the championship opener on the horizon.

“It was very hard at the time because I suppose they thought the league final would be on the Sunday and we’d still be able to go to the night on the Saturday,” said Mahony at Monday’s launch of the AIB provincial finals. “The lads made the most of it – the ones who weren’t involved with Waterford.

“We got back at about quarter past 11, half 11. They waited around and held some of the presentations at that stage. We were playing Tipp in two weeks’ time so the next day was a recovery session and it was just in and out for us.”


The sheer jubilation of the club’s All-Ireland, secured in the dying seconds by Harry Ruddle’s goal, which sank Kilkenny champions Ballyhale, had been most radiant in the aftermath, anyway, and the medal presentation was simply a pleasant follow-up.

As things turned out, the intercounty season had peaked with the league win, and the championship ahead provided only disappointment.

Next Saturday, Ballygunnner will be within three matches of retaining that All-Ireland but first up is Ballyea from Clare, who they walloped in last year’s Munster championship but who will be a different proposition this time around if only for the return from injury of Tony Kelly.

Not that the Waterford champions have been sitting on their laurels, either. A record-equalling ninth county title on the bounce opened the door to the province once more and their form has been good, culminating in a powerful display in the much anticipated semi-final against former All-Ireland champions Na Piarsaigh.

Mahony recovered from an uncertain start to fire over 13 points in a tour-de-force contribution to the decisive second-half recovery. He wonders whether being All-Ireland winners has benefited the team.

“I’m not so sure, being honest. Maybe you could say we’re playing with a little more freedom this year. Could be slightly less pressure on the team ... We’ve new lads again on the panel this year that are pushing standards, driving the team on.”

He is less reticent about the impact of the achievement on life in general.

“I’m not sure about others but from my side, obviously as a Waterford person it’s not something we’re too used to. For years when we had a couple of counties under our belt and no Munster we were saying, ‘Jeez, if we won one Munster, we’d nearly be happy’.

“Then obviously things change and you get a bit older and wiser. There are new lads coming in and you realise there’s an extra layer of belief within the group. Obviously it’s one of those days and we probably don’t think about it enough now but when we’re finished we’ll probably look back and say, ‘that was the happiest we ever were as a group but also as people’.

“It made things a lot easier in terms of getting on with life and maximising yourself off the hurling pitch as well. Things became a lot easier for the fact that you had achieved something so big.”

Life-changing to an extent?

“If you think about the time and effort we put into the game. It’s not just nowadays turning up to training on Tuesday and Thursday with a match on Sunday. There’s so much more that goes into it: the gym, trying to get the body right, the mind right. It influences a lot of what you do outside of the pitch – so, yeah.

“It makes it easier to come back and do it again if you can get to where we were last year.”

The team has been refreshed. Most obviously, former minor Patrick Fitzgerald – a cousin of Mahony, who coached him at under-age – has added to the firepower at corner forward with 2-5 in the provincial campaign to date.

“He’s a very good lad, a real good attitude,” says his cousin. “We all know he has a huge abundance of skill and talent. The last day, though, he put in a massive shift in terms of his work rate. If you had a GPS tracker on him, I’d say he would have been right up there in terms of distance covered.”

All told, the improving attack has transformed Mahony’s situation on the team.

“It’s great with young lads flying around the pitch. There might have been a time a couple of years ago when I would have taken on a little extra pressure in the Ballygunner forward line.

“Dessie [Hutchinson] mightn’t have been there. My brothers Mikey and Kevin mightn’t have been there and Peter Hogan might have been very young. It’s different circumstances now playing with Ballygunner and that’s probably why I’m enjoying it so much.”

He’s also been talking to David Fitzgerald, the new Waterford manager, who has returned for a second stint. Mahony says that there’s a buzz of anticipation.

“For a county that doesn’t have a huge amount of Munster championships, Davy was the last one to bring a title here. It’s exciting for all the players.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times