By Michael Moynihan
Waterford got over Wexford to book their place in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, but their previous outing still resonates with Colin Dunford.
It was a first championship win over Kilkenny for Waterford since 1959, after all.
“That was a special night for us, not beating them for so long in the championship. After them coming back, and having to go to extra-time, it was great to see that we could come back from being eight points up to them coming back level, and to drive on again was a massive thing for the team.
“Thankfully we got over the line. We’d be a fairly fit team, a few lads would stay going for days.
“Jamie (Barron) there, as Anthony Daly said, he was like a Duracell bunny in extra-time. He got a new lease of life – I don’t know where he got it from.”
Dunford’s been a sub for most of the season, and he accepts his role.
“If you get in, you take your chance. Once you get out, it’s hard to get back on the starting team.
“But the subs in our team are absolutely vital to the way we play. I think it’s 1-18 in the last few games that the subs are after contributing
“You have to do your job and accept that if you’re not in the starting 15, you could be called upon at any stage.”
It’s still a departure from recent years, when he had been a starter.
“You know you want to be in there. You’d miss not being on the starting 15 but I’m delighted to be getting games still, getting in there to do a job.
“Thankfully the subs are doing an effective job lately, we’re coming in and happy enough but every player wants to be on the starting 15.
“Derek (McGrath) wants to please everyone, which he does and he does it very well. He’d pull you aside, telling you that the subs will have a massive impact and he’s not lying.
“The way we’re playing, you need to change it after 40-45 minutes and get fresh legs in. We’re lucky enough to have a few quick lads to come in and change the game.”
Dunford waxes lyrical about his home place, Colligan: “It’s a small enough place, not much there, we’d be known for the Colligan wood and the Colligan river that flows into Dungarvan.
“We’re only a small club, junior hurling and we won the junior football championship last year. It was a massive thing for us, first county title in 16 years I think, a nice boost around the place. It’s nice to be involved in the club as well, to get it back on the map because it would have been strong going back a few years.
“Numbers-wise, we’re picking up again, we have a few young lads here again this year so hopefully we’ll push for a hurling championship this year.
“The standard of hurling in junior (in Waterford) is actually very good, if you went up against an intermediate team, there wouldn’t be much between you. The likes of Ardmore are down junior and if they went back up intermediate, they’d nearly challenge for a title. There’s not much between any of the teams.”
He pays tribute to the work done in the schools which has produced such a rich crop for the Déise.
“Blackwater, De La Salle and Dungarvan colleges were very successful in Dean Ryans, White Cups, Hartys, Croke Cups. That’s the generation coming through and there was a lot of work done.
“From our days with Dungarvan Colleges, we did a lot of work with Darragh Duggan, Shane McGrath, Pat Collins, and Peter Power was involved with us as well. That’s bringing in lads from the smaller clubs and getting them playing at a higher level.”
The management practice student at Carlow IT hasn’t been surprised by Cork’s season.
“You could say they’ve surprised a lot of people,” says Dunford. “But in 2013, they were in an All-Ireland final so it’s not much of a surprise to us.
“We went through a bad patch in 2014 and thankfully came back again. Cork had a bad year last year but they were by no means a bad team. They beat us in the league as well and they played very well in the league.
“They’ve now got a system that works for them and they’re now playing it to a tee. It’s working well for them.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a gap in experience. If there was anyone to have more experience, it would be Cork.
“The bulk of their team was from that All-Ireland final team, they’d have a wide range of experience. The opposition is going to be very hard again – anybody that gets to this stage is going to be as good as what you’ve met in the last two years. The surroundings alright would help but it’s no different for the Cork lads.
“You’d like to get them back for beating you and you would use it for motivation but motivation isn’t going to get you over the line, it’s how you perform on the day and we need a massive performance to get over this.”
Dunford produced just that kind of performance in 2015 against Kilkenny: “Ah it wasn’t too bad! I was happy enough with it, the ball fell for me in the second half, ‘Brick’ flicked one out to me, in the second half, that was my first score and got the ball rolling for me.”
Waterford would welcome an encore this Sunday.
This article first appeared in today’s Irish Examiner.