IT’S a first senior final for every Clare player but as well as playing, manager Davy Fitzgerald has managed a team in an All-Ireland before. It’s presumably something he does not look back on fondly; Waterford met a Kilkenny side at the peak of their powers and were beaten 3-30 to 1-13.
Dan Shanahan was involved and while he doesn’t look back on the game fondly either, he doesn’t lay the blame with the management of the time.
“We’d a lot of work done and to the credit of Davy and the selectors, they took a lot of limelight off us. Everything was organised but Kilkenny were very good that day,” he says. “When you get to the All-Ireland, you have to go and get measured for suits and things like that and we got it done fairly quick. It was just on the day that our tactics didn’t work.”
On the day, some Waterford players made rather unsuccessful early attempts to rough up their markers. Was that a mistake? “Maybe so, maybe there’s a point there. There were four or five fellas picked out that maybe something could start with early on, maybe get them a fella booked early on and try to get Kilkenny on the backfoot. It backfired on us big time to be honest with you. The fellas picked out weren’t the right fellas to be doing it to.”
Fitzgerald arrived in Waterford in the immediate aftermath of the players’ rebellion against Justin McCarthy. They had just lost the first round of the Munster championship and ‘Dan the Man’ feels he turned their year around.
“I thought he brought in a lot of organisation and professionalism, he brought his own structure to the training. It took a lot of us a while to get into Davy’s style of hurling. A lot of us didn’t like his style but he was the manager at the time and he had two good selectors in Maurice Geary and Peter Queally.”
There’s a lot of hype and excitement in Clare this week but there was even more in Waterford five years ago, as the county was in its first final for over 40 years. The build-up wasn’t that serious a factor, Shanahan believes; it was just an extraordinary Kilkenny team that they were facing.
“I just treated it like another game, to be honest with you. Playing hurling in September wasn’t something we’d ever achieved before. I treated it like another game but things didn’t go right for a lot of us that day, including myself. In fairness, Kilkenny were absolutely outstanding, you know, and they had some outstanding hurlers.”
His own career finished without an All-Ireland, although he won Munster Championships and a hurler of the year award.
“It’s every inter-county player’s ambition to win an All-Ireland but it wasn’t for the want of trying. We didn’t have much luck, I think.
“1998 was probably our best chance of getting to another All-Ireland. We’ve been close on a couple of occasions and people enjoyed our hurling,” Dan concluded.
By Owen Ryan