Dan Shanahan interview: Passion still burns for man who loved to conquer Cork

Waterford selector is fully immersed in his second hurling life for the county

 

“Our day is gone,” says Dan Shanahan when conversation turns to the hugely popular, dashing Waterford team which he fronted for the bones of a decade.

The Lismore forward is still in touch with the team-mates who took the Deise supporters on a sometimes magical and sometimes heartbreaking mystery tour for a succession of hurling summers but their conversations revolve around the present generation of Waterford hurlers.

Shanahan isn’t going to pretend Waterford’s appearance in tomorrow’s Allianz Hurling League final is not worth getting excited about: the county’s supporters have responded and he is delighted by that.

“People felt that once the bigger names went we would be down in the doldrums for a few years. But I did feel we had the players to come straight back up this year and after the first-round game in Limerick, that conviction grew stronger. We had 500 people up in the Gaelic Grounds that night and there might be 25,000 at the final this Sunday, so it is great. We did feel we needed the Waterford supporters back behind us and they are doing that. It is great because they are important to us.”

When Derek McGrath visited him two years ago suggesting he return to the county set-up as his selector, Shanahan was reluctant at first. The 2007 hurler of the year had retired in 2010 and he still had many friends on the squad.

“But the big reservation was that Maurice was there,” he says, referencing his younger brother. Since he agreed, he has found himself immersed in what seems like a second hurling life. Last year, he jokingly agreed he would need to temper his exuberance on the sideline: as a terrifically energetic and imposing full-forward in his goal-poaching days, he wasn’t likely to revert to Zen-like calm on the sideline. But his gratitude to the senior manager is easily heard in his voice.

Different way of playing

“Derek has covered every corner possible to improve Waterford hurling. He is a fantastic coach and is brilliant with the players. He has won All-Irelands at schools level with some of them but the respect is there across the board because they can see what he is trying to do and build. We are all pushing behind him.”

The one note of irritation for Shanahan over the spring season was the comparison of Waterford’s defensive alignment to that of the Donegal footballers. “This whole comparison to the Donegal football thing is total nonsense. What our lads are doing is that if our centre back is in trouble, our centrefield players will help him out. We are working hard as a unit. We have the fitness to do that this year. It is just pure hunger to get the ball. That is all that is happening.

“It has been easy going training for the last month because we have won a few games and the atmosphere is really good. This time last year we were in relegation and it is down to the work that the lads have put in. You have to take a few steps back to go forward sometimes. We are still at league pace but there is that competition for places at training and that is a huge thing.”

They have been consistently surprising this year, from plucking a draw out of a very tricky opening assignment away to Limerick, where they had to overcome the setback of conceding two penalties. McGrath had prioritised a good promotion push and with that came consistency.

Their raid against Wexford on March 22nd was when people really began to sit up and take notice and it was afterwards that more attention was paid to their defensive work. As a rebuttal, the Waterford camp can point to their score tally: 0-22 in that opening match against Limerick and a consistent tally since then of 3-21 (v Laois), 2-18 (v Offaly), 4-30 (v Antrim) and 0-22 v Wexford.

They caused a minor surprise by evicting Galway at the quarter-final stage before last week’s eye-catching win against Tipperary. And it wasn’t just that they won that semi-final; it was that they won it despite leaking two early goals against the most potent attacking force in the game.

“I think this time last year if Tipp got two early goals against us, they might have gone on to score four or five. We conceded a goal from play up until the Tipp game, so three from play is not a bad return. Last year, we were under pressure to win games and to stay up and couldn’t give younger players games. This year we were under a bit of pressure to get back up but I have to say that Division 1B offers tough games. Go to Wexford Park or Limerick and you will meet good teams.”

But Cork in Thurles is special. Waterford have not won league silverware since 2007, the year of years for Shanahan, the summer in which he could not stop scoring goals. The mere thought of Cork summons special memories for all the Waterford hurlers of his generation. There is no question they were up there with the Rebels during the middle part of the last decade but Shanahan is serene about the fact the record book shows MacCarthy Cups for Cork in ’04 and ’05, while against that there was a solitary and unhappy All-Ireland final appearance for Waterford against Kilkenny in 2008.

He is in touch with John Mullane very regularly through the latter’s involvement with the under-21s and sees Ken McGrath a lot. “Paul Flynn would be texting. Dave Bennett would call regularly. We are all good mates. They are all good friends of mine. Sometimes they would say something I wouldn’t agree with but I will hear their point and take it on board. To go for a pint with these lads or have a cup of coffee, I love doing it.

“You don’t forget what you had with these lads. We didn’t get our All-Ireland. We played against fantastic teams. I did feel we had terrific hurlers too but, like I say, our day is gone. I remember Tom Cheasty saying to me he would love us to win the All-Ireland to stop the talk about 1959. So I am hoping our lads can take a few steps starting on Sunday.

“Cork are Cork are Cork. They have been the form team in the league and have some serious, serious hurlers who can really do damage if they are let. We are just going to keep our house in order, give Cork the respect they deserve, work hard. And then you never know.”

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