I intended writing this irrespective of whether he played last Sunday, and I’d say the same thing if he never hit another ball out of his way for Waterford.
There are those who risk doing themselves an injury in their haste to dance on the grave of Dan Shanahan’s career, not that it’s dead, or even on its last legs, as his latest competitive goal for the county went some way to proving.
The twaddle Doubting Thomas theory goes that 2007, his Hurler of the Year zenith, was ‘a flash in the pan’ and that the Lismore man was never as good before nor since. Which conveniently ignores his other All Star-winning displays in 2004 and ’06, among many more fine hours for Waterford. Days we’ll never forget. Or at least we shouldn’t.
However, confidence – the real McCoy, rather than the faux bravado version – is that most difficult of tricks to pull off. When Dan’s at his best the game comes naturally. Think of all those goals he’s scored (20 in the championship alone) and they’ve one thing in common: instinct. He’s a spontaneous finisher. But when you’re struggling you tend to try too hard and complicate things.
And his game has never been just about goals. He was a scorer of great points long before he starting finding the net with record-setting frequency (think back to the ’98 Munster semi-final against Tipp).
Sure, last year wasn’t his best by a long shot. The Justin McCarthy ‘cold shoulder’ episode gave his critics-in-waiting added ammunition. They neglect to remember he injured his knee playing for his club, missed a good chunk of what pre-season training the team did, and was playing catch-up from thereon.
Davy keep faith in him, hoping his form would come. And he justified Fitzgerald’s perseverance in part with a priceless goal and a point against Wexford – without which Waterford wouldn’t have reached the semis, never mind the final. Still, hopes that that strike would boost his ebbing confidence were no more than that. He just couldn’t get going and the Kilkenny rout was his fourth scoreless game of a poor championship campaign (four points against Antrim his only other credit entry).
Training like a demon since early January, when he turned 32, Dan’s displays in the first two League outings weren’t as bad as people made out – though he was taken off above in Ennis and left out of Sunday’s starting fifteen; probably the right move in hindsight.
His 1-1 contribution on Sunday shows Maurice’s older brother still has something to offer. And he’ll be retired long enough; we should enjoy these lads while we can. As someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, Dan has always been a lightning rod for supporters’ emotions – either desperate or, more often that not, ‘the man’.
Here’s hoping he kicks on from here and rediscovers his old self. Because Waterford aren’t the same without him.