Pauric Mahony and Ballygunner have unfinished business

Waterford champions begin their bid for provincial glory against Thurles Sarsfields

There were times Pauric Mahony perhaps wondered if he'd ever see these days again.

Lying on the flat of his back looking down on a badly broken leg while on club duty for Ballygunner 18 months ago, simply walking again seemed enough of a challenge.

His recovery and return to the Waterford hurling team that pushed Kilkenny so close in last summer's All-Ireland championship semi-final has been well documented though there's still lost ground to make up.

Like missing out on last year’s county title success with Ballygunner and their subsequent march to the AIB Munster club final.


A “killer blow” was how the 24-year-old sharpshooter described looking on and being powerless to prevent that 2015 provincial final defeat to Na Piarsaigh.

This Sunday, the three-in-a-row Déise champions will return to Munster action with a tie against Thurles Sarsfields and Mahony, fresh from a man-of-the-match display in the county final, will be their main man.

"I was involved at the time of his injury, I was there on the spot when it happened," said Ballygunner manager Denis Walsh, the former Cork hurling boss. "It was desperate stuff really. But of all the fellas for that to happen to, I had a fair idea that Pauric had the strength of character and was mentally strong enough to bounce back, which he has."

Primary motivation

Mahony hit 1-11 against Passage in last weekend’s Waterford final, sealing that three-in-a-row of wins, though Walsh isn’t so sure that making up for last year’s absence was his primary motivation.

“I don’t know if people realised but Pauric was captain when Ballygunner lost the 2013 final to Passage and I think that was actually quite a driving force for him this time around,” said Walsh. “I think there was probably a bit of wanting to make up for that.”

Mahony made it back from the injury for Waterford’s championship campaign though it ended in despair, an arm slung around him by a young Kilkenny supporter proving to be one of the images of the summer.

He’d had an opportunity to level their All-Ireland semi-final replay tie but dropped a long-range free just short and Kilkenny worked the ball forward to hit the insurance score in a two-point win.

“He’s actually said that he knew almost immediately that he hadn’t given it enough,” said Waterford manager Derek McGrath. “But Pauric won’t be overly concerned about a thing like that for too long. He’ll move on and there’s always another opportunity and that’s what he’s done.

“I think people don’t like the word process but that’s what he’s gone through, the whole process of missing and dealing with it. He grieved for a while and moved on. He’s the kind of guy who has perspective, he looks at things differently at times and he’s able to move on. He was strong enough to deal with it.”

McGrath has noted a vital freshness to Mahony’s play just recently and puts it down to his late start to the season because of the injury.

“He didn’t play his first championship match with us until June 5th against Clare,” said McGrath. “He’d only 40 minutes in a challenge match against Limerick previous to that. He looks the freshest of them all in terms of the hunger that goes with a county player coming near the end of the season.”

Walsh isn’t convinced about that.

“He didn’t play the league but he played the championship, did a lot of hurling since May,” countered Walsh. “I can see the point but I think Pauric is the sort of serious operator that it doesn’t really matter, if he was playing all year round he’d still be approaching this weekend the same way.”

Even with Mahony in their ranks and bang on form, the bookies aren’t giving Ballygunner much of a chance of advancing this weekend. That’s more a reflection of the quality of the opposition with three Thurles Sarsfields men in Tipperary’s All-Ireland-winning defence and Lar Corbett still in attack.

“I’m not a betting man but I did see Thurles at 4/1 to win the All-Ireland even at this stage and ourselves a way out around 20/1,” said Walsh. “That probably tells its own story about how people see it going. Personally, I don’t think the Ballygunner fellas will be found wanting. It’s all there to be played for as far as we’re concerned.”

Meanwhile, McGrath has been named the Gaelic Writers Association’s 2016 Hurling Personality of the Year. The GWA awards ceremony takes place in Dublin’s Jackson Court Hotel tonight.