On this occasion the picture was worth a thousand words. The Waterford footballers, legs dangling over the quayside in Dungarvan, are chatting away together and the image captures that sense of fulfilment which comes after a championship win.
“It’s a nice photo,” says Waterford football manager Tom McGlinchey.
“Not to get too sentimental about it, every player in the picture is from a different club, there might be a couple of Dungarvan lads but they’re not sitting together, they’re all sitting with different lads.
“It’s a great spot, if Tourism Ireland ever wanted to do a video they couldn’t get nicer than that part of Dungarvan, down around The Moorings, and it was a gorgeous evening.”
McGlinchey says the vibe was still there when they trained later that week. Thomas O’Gorman, one of the older lads on the squad, told the manager he’d loved those couple of hours in Dungarvan because they were all together.
“Not in a pub or a hall, just in each others’ company so they could just chat away together,” adds McGlinchey.
“And it was great for them to have those chats without any ‘what ifs’, after the win.”
The win was over Wexford — Waterford’s first football championship victory in seven years. McGlinchey acknowledges that it may not be the biggest result this summer.
“The cynics might say ‘they won a first round qualifier and they’ll get beaten the next day out, so what’, but that’s the beauty of the GAA.
“We hadn’t won in so long that the feeling is unbelievable. You dream about it, ‘will we ever win it’, and that’s why you have that emotion after the game.
“And you see that emotion in everyone. If you see Brian Cody after an All-Ireland final, a Leinster final, just after the game the fists are clenched and he’s jumping up and down, no matter what he’s won.
“It was a huge moment for us. When we went back training the first night after everyone was saying how great it was to be preparing for another qualifier on the back of a win: for the last seven years we’ve prepared for a qualifier on the back of a provincial loss, so even that sensation is completely different.
“Put it into words? You can’t really. Those few minutes after the final whistle are great because everyone who’s connected to the team is there. You’re meeting the mothers and fathers of the players out on the field at the final whistle. They’re the core support, the families.
“And the wives and the girlfriends. Up to that all you might know about them is a phone call from one of the lads who can’t make training because the girlfriend has something on, and then you meet them.
“You see who they are, you see they’re all delighted, they’re thrilled for the lads because they’ve put so much into it. My own parents came down from Mourneabbey for the game. There’s all that and with the win you can’t take that away.”
The reward is a visit from Monaghan this afternoon. Monaghan. Kieran Hughes. The Wylies. Conor McManus.
“There’s a reality. You’re playing a Division One team, it’s going to be very hard.
“That’s the goal but while it’s going to be very hard, winning the weekend before last definitely makes training a lot easier this week.
“I know it’s a cliche but the physios weren’t as busy as they’d be after a loss at training, you’d notice it, the lads are enjoying it but they also trained very hard last week.
“Monaghan are a top six team at least, if not a top four team, and there’s an easy way to show that — all their players are household names, really. They’re like the Richie Hogans or Conor Lehanes, you know the Wylies, Corey, McCarron, Jack McCarthy, Conor McManus.
“The average GAA fan can name the Monaghan team and let’s be honest, they wouldn’t be naming the Waterford footballers.
“They might struggle to name even the Tyrone team, but they’d know the Monaghan lads.”
And they all know Conor McManus. McGlinchey doesn’t downplay the Monaghan star’s quality: “He’s terrific, he’s so good at his game that at times he appears to drift out of it and you’re nearly thinking ‘where’s Conor McManus’ and then he pops up with a wonder score.
“He needs your full attention but if you double-mark him are you going to leave Jack McCarron free, or one of the Hugheses?
“They all take watching and Conor is obviously the marquee forward, but what makes them a top-six team is that he’s not the only one.
“Years ago when I was with Tipperary everything was about Declan Browne up front, if he was double-marked there were issues, but Tipp now have Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan, Kerry always have two — Geaney and O’Donoghue, say — and good teams always have a double threat.
“We’re going up three steps, from Division 4 to Division 1 and the speed of thought, the speed of action is a huge step up.”
Is that the big difference, the speed between the levels? “When I was playing with Clyda Rovers Bernie O’Connor, Ben and Jerry’s dad, came down from Newtownshandrum to train us in hurling one time, and I never forgot what he told us one night — ‘there’s no difference between an U12 playing hurling and a senior player, the rules don’t change — all that changes is the speed’.
“He’s right. The rules and skills are the same, but it does get faster and faster — up the age groups, from club to intercounty, from Division 4 to 3 and so on, up to Division 1.
“What brings that home are the league finals. If you watch them over the one weekend you can see the speed levels and technique improve as those games go on and on.”
This weekend those speed levels and technique will be up close and personal. Monaghan will be warm favourites but McGlinchey and his team are looking forward to the challenge.
“If we don’t learn from it we’re not doing our job properly, management and players. You learn from those games.
“If you listen to the teams involved in the Joe McDonagh Cup, for instance, they’re talking about the challenge of playing the top teams. I’ve heard Michael Ryan say that, the Westmeath manager, and there’s a link because he’s a Waterford man and his son Shane got the goal for us the last day.
“We’d certainly hope to learn from Monaghan. And it’d be great if the Waterford support came out to see these guys, Division 1 players, in the flesh, to see the standard. It’d be great for the Waterford public to see what these guys can do, a team that’s going to be involved in the sharp end of the championship come August.
“I think your genuine GAA follower with a nosy interest would like to see them, even lads in Youghal or Clonmel who are interested in Gaelic football and might want to see Conor McManus up close. You know yourself when you’re on holiday and sick of hanging around, and you see a GAA game, and you say, ‘I must go over and have a look, see what’s going on.’”
It’s going on today at 2pm in Dungarvan. What’s keeping you?
The game will be broadcast on WLR with commentary team Kieran O’Connor and Jason Ryan thanks to George Corbett Skoda.
Michael Moynihan – Irish Examiner