Wayne Hutchinson ready to seize another big moment with Ballygunner
Munster champions braced for a semi-final showdown with famed Ballyhale
Wayne Hutchinson celebrates after Ballygunner’s Munster senior club final victory over Na Piarsaigh at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
There’s already been plenty of touching ads for the AIB Club Championship over the years, Wayne Hutchinson seizing the ball in Ballygunner’s exact moment of victory in the Munster final last November another suitable addition.
It perfectly captured not just the club’s long wait for only their second provincial title, but Hutchinson’s too, given he watched as a 16-year-old when the Waterford champions first claimed that title back in 2001.
Now 33, the club losing another four Munster finals in the meantime, only Ballyhale Shamrocks stand in their way of a first ever All-Ireland final appearance – that being the Ballyhale with six All-Irelands to their name, plus nine Leinster titles, the most successful club in hurling history.
In getting this far, however, Ballygunner certainly aren’t without hope, going into Saturday’s semi-final at Semple Stadium having beaten last year’s All-Ireland finalists Na Piarsaigh in that Munster final last November – the game with which provided the perfect closing shot as Hutchinson grabbed the ball in the heart of the defence, just as the final which was blown.
“Yes, it’s sitting at home now on the mantelpiece in my mother’s house, and it will be there for ever more,” he says of that now cherished sliotar.
“It was a great moment. We were just keeping our line and kept protecting our full-back line because at that stage in a game like that there could be five or six minutes left. It dropped nicely into the hand and obviously the referee blew the whistle.”
It also perfectly captured the resilience of club and player: Hutchinson, who played both senior hurling and football for Waterford, also went public about his mental health struggles in 2014, but never gave up hope of some day getting his hands on that Munster title.
“To be honest I absolutely did [believe]. I knew the potential was in the team, no question. I knew there was a group of players to go on and do something special. If I didn’t think that I wouldn’t be committing to it. From a personal perspective, you might have some lads sit here and say ‘oh no it was in doubt’ but I felt it was never in doubt that this team was going to do it.
“Sometimes that can be the luck of the draw. Obviously, in the lead in to a Munster final, the better games you get or the tougher games you get you are more ready for it because nothing beats tough championship games. The tougher games young et you are more ready for it because nothing beats tough championship games.
“You could be in your own training grounds training away but nothing beats that competitive action. We had tough games against Midleton and Ballyea on the way to the final, massive tough games.
“Na Piarsaigh then in fairness to them, no disrespect to other teams on the other side but on paper they probably had an easier trip to the final. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, I’m not too sure.
“It all comes down to the day which teams reacts better to the break and I think Ballyhale might have the advantage in that they have been in this position before. We haven’t. Henry [Shefflin, the Ballyhale manager] has been in this position, he knows how to prepare a team to be at this stage. It is new ground for us.” AIB All-Ireland club SHC semi-final: Ballygunner (Waterford) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Semple Stadium, 5pm - TG4