“Hutchy” Relishing Glory with Gunners

Wayne Hutchinson celebrates Ballygunner's SHC win with brother JJ at Walsh Park.

Wayne Hutchinson celebrates Ballygunner's SHC win with brother JJ at Walsh Park.

Ballygunner’s players embraced on the Walsh Park sod following Sunday’s full-time whistle with the enthusiasm of a team that hadn’t lifted the News & Star Cup for decades.
Their reaction to victory spoke volumes for their drive, their hunger and their application, as they negotiated their way past De La Salle by eight points for the second time this season. They may well have dodged a Lismore coloured bullet in that marvellous semi-final at Fraher Field, but, as Fergal Hartley pointed out again on Sunday, that match said as much about Lismore’s quality as it did for Ballygunner’s bottle.
Wayne Hutchinson is well familiar with the Championship winning waltz. And had he managed to scoop a late goal chance beyond De La Salle’s Shaun O’Brien, the Fraher Field roof might have had a similarly damaged first cousin on the Slievekeale Road.

“What was flashing through my mind,” the half-back wistfully mused on his missed goalscoring opportunity in the wake of the Gunners’ fourth successive title. “I probably had more time on the ball, to be honest with you. It kinda hopped, then it kinda got stuck and then I hit it, and I didn’t hit it well and sure I’m already after getting a wicked slagging over it!”
The former Deise senior panellist, who has been in magnificent form for the Gunners all season long, as have his half-back colleagues Shane Walsh and Philip Mahony, could afford to grin about his miss.
“I’d seen the overlap, I was on the outside and I decided to make the run; Billy (O’Keeffe) played it over and I was screaming for the ball but he had a shot, the keeper made a great save and I just kinda went for it, and, let’s face it, I didn’t hit it well!”

Putting that offensive cameo to one side, there was no concealing how impressive Ballygunner were, particularly in the second half when, playing into the wind, they produced the better quality of hurling.
“When we went in at half-time, I think the free count was well in De La Salle’s favour and that worried us,” said Wayne.
“We said at half-time that if we didn’t give away frees, and not give young Shane Ryan a chance in front of goal and if we kept standing up to De La Salle – we knew we had the backs to stand up to the De La Salle forwards – and yeah, we did produce a commanding performance in the second half in the end. But it was a solid test as well and we’re just happy to be County champions now; we’ll analyse it during the week and get ready for Thurles Sarsfields next weekend.”

It was impossible not to re-reference that Lismore semi-final, and its significance may well grow should the Gunners overcome Thurles next Sunday and advance in Munster.
“We’re after playing eight games to win a Championship and there’s no question about it, even though today was the County Final, last week was without doubt the toughest test we had all year,” Wayne Hutchinson stated.
“They’re a formidable outfit and they need to really push on because there’s great potential in that team. Last week was a solid test and we needed that. The week before, we’d beaten Mount Sion well so the Lismore match definitely stood to us today alright.”

Defensively, Ballygunner have been incredibly impressive this season, conceding only two goals in eight hours of Championship hurling. And it’s been pleasing to see the quality of their backline efforts being as widely hailed as their pacy offensive line.
“Myself, Philip and Walshy in the half-back line, we’re three reasonably strong men but the thing about it is, is that we’re not really minding anyone. When I look around and I see Barry Coughlan, Eddie Hayden and Ian Kenny, there’s no reason to be sitting back, looking for handy ball. You know you can push up, because that’s what De La Salle tried to do today: they tried to play a lot of the hurling in around the middle third. Jack Fagan was going out into the mid third, Jake (Dillon) was going out, trying to pick up a lot of ball, so we pushed up on those boys because we knew how confident we were with the three boys behind us to look after the house, and then you’ve Sokky as a last line so we’ll pretty well served back there, in fairness.”
To be part of the first Ballygunner side to lift four successive News & Star cups must be a fantastic feeling, one not recorded in Waterford since Mount Sion were in their pomp back in the 1950s.

“Sure it’s massive. It’s a huge thrill. As I said after the Lismore match, this hasn’t just happened this year. Denis (Walsh), Darragh (O’Sullivan), Gary O’Keeffe, over the last two years we’re after putting in savage work into this team and they can’t be forgotten about on as day like today because Denis put in a savage amount of work into the development of the club and in the development of the short game which we sometimes play, but we mix it as well, between long and short, and they need to take great credit for that.”
Wayne Hutchinson added: “But this year, Fergal (Hartley) came in, it was good to get a fresh voice and a different opinion. He’s so well respected within the club; he’s a savage businessman and he brings that standard from business into sport and he’s been brilliant for us. He’s a great man.”
A Munster Championship-sized box needs ticking. The club has won the title only once, back in 2001, and it’s a competition they’ll feel they should have performed better in over the years.

“First of all, it’s great to be back there, but yeah, we’ve only gone all the way in Munster that one time and we’ve been back to Thurles for a couple of big days since and we’ve probably underperformed. And yeah, we probably haven’t done ourselves justice in the Munster Championship, but we’re getting there and we’ll keep working hard. Thurles will probably come down as hot favourites, and they’re probably quite similar to us in that they’ve won four in a row but they’ve probably underachieved in Munster too – that’s my personal opinion – and they’ll come down here next Sunday and it’s going to be a titanic battle.”
One suspects it’s a challenge Wayne Hutchinson & co will warm readily to once the ball is thrown in come Sunday afternoon.

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