Daily snapshots of life in Australia have been finding their way back to Waterford. They provide glimpses to Stephen Bennett of a life away from intercounty hurling.
But for now the possibility of catching a glimpse of Liam MacCarthy this summer is enough for the 27-year-old to be in Fraher Field rather than further afield on Sunday.
His brothers, Kieran (28) and Shane (26), have stepped away for the year. Kieran has been in Melbourne since last August and Shane is now joining him in Victoria. Stephen has not ruled out doing some travelling himself in the future, but for now his focus is on Waterford.
“It’s the first year in seven or eight that I don’t have one of them in with me,” says Stephen. “The both of them are gone. It’s quiet enough at home.
“Every morning Kieran is snapping you a picture of 38 degrees, just home from work, going to the beach. You’re getting up to go to work and head straight then to Waterford for training, so there are a few times you’re like, ‘I wouldn’t mind being there’.
“But no, I’m generally happy playing another year. With work, everything. I think you can overthink it as well and do what other people think you should do. If we need to go travelling in the future, we can.”
Plus, he was able to get away to Dubai, Croatia and Portugal in recent months, and he also managed to squeeze in a game of his beloved Everton late last year. So, he’s ready for the hurling season now.
Still, news this week of Pauric Mahony retiring is another blow to the Waterford panel. The former county captain has been one of the mainstays of the dressing room for more than a decade.
It is up to Bennett and the other experienced players to help the squad absorb such a blow. Bennett is finding the experience of working under Davy Fitzgerald to be hugely positive. Fitzgerald, who is returning for a second spell as Waterford manager, has replaced Liam Cahill at the helm.
“He is so much different from what you see, fellas think he comes in shouting and roaring like you see on the telly, he is really good, really calm and talks to you really as a person and he cares about you,” says Bennett.
“He’ll tell you if you were bad, we played a match the other day and he’d tell you that you were a three out of 10 or a two but it’s so honest people actually like it.
“Fellas are happy coming into training and they are trying to get to know each other outside of the field, he’s big on that.”
Waterford won the Division One title last year but subsequently their championship campaign fell apart, so they might not be so inclined to chase hard after another league crown this term. But Bennett doesn’t feel Fitzgerald is capable of approaching the competition in a blasé manner.
“The way he talks about playing cards and he says he goes mental if he loses them with his mother,” says Bennett. “So I don’t actually think he’s capable of not trying to win a game. It’s same for all of us. You’d hear fellas saying ‘ah they didn’t want to win that’ but I don’t ever believe it.
“Like fellas mightn’t be fit enough or the mightn’t have enough done, but I don’t think any player goes out and plays a match at county level and doesn’t try and beat the man he’s on.
“Just personally if I was playing a round of golf with my two brothers I’d be mental on the inside if I lost to them or if was playing a PlayStation game I’d get thick if I was losing it.”
Ultimately, Bennett knows all that really counts is getting across the line in an All-Ireland final. Having made significant strides during the early part of Cahill’s tenure, it fell apart last year. Still, Bennett believes there is an All-Ireland title in this group.
“I 100 per cent think we’re good enough to win, which is why I’m still playing. I fully believe we can beat every team in Ireland. But if you don’t perform, they will all beat you.”
Stephen Bennett was speaking at the launch of the 2023 Allianz Hurling League