Shortly after noon on Monday, Owen Dunphy walked down the steps of De La Salle College proudly holding the Waterford Senior Hurling Championship Cup. His players had walked ahead of him as they made their way to a fleet of cars to take them to St Stephen’s School, the last of their three visits to schools in the city. Their first appearance was to St Declan’s School earlier in the day.
“Ah this is a great feeling, a wonderful feeling,” beamed the De La Salle manager, a gentle giant of a man if ever there was one. “We knew all week that we would have a very tough game on our hands and that is what we got from Abbeyside. We have had some great battles with them down through the years in various grades like Intermediate but we knew this would be different.
“Having said that I was quietly confident that we would win if we prepared well and we certainly did that. Abbeyside beat Mount Sion at the outset and a number of other fine clubs along the way, losing only to Lismore, but they were qualified at that stage. We struggled a little in some games but we had great battling qualities and that fact stood to us once again on Sunday, and that was perhaps the difference.
“There was more however than spirit and guts needed in the final. It was a very emotional day for lots of people involved with the club. Men like Sonny Walsh and John Barron gave their lives to De La Salle. Sonny is 25 years’ dead but he will never be forgotten.
“John Barron, perhaps the greatest ever player to play for the club, did not win a Senior Club medal with us. Eamonn Fitzgerald buried his wife only ten days ago and he is a wonderful servant to the club. Hopefully this win was a little bit of light in a long dark tunnel for him. Those men, and plenty more like them, gave us a cause to win,” said an emotional Owen.
Senior Hurling Championships don’t come easily, something the De La Salle boss agreed with. “We have been building for this for many years. I myself soldiered away as a player for 15 years but this was about building on the work but in at juvenile level and Under 21 level for the past ten years or so.
“Some of the older guys like John Mullane and Conan Watt have been with the club and they have suffered heartbreak as well as the glory moments. We have a panel of 24 to 25 players bursting a gut to try and get into the starting 15 right now. We have the older players and young players who have won College titles and that can only be good for the club in the future.
“When we lost in 2005 we were very upset. We tried hard after that defeat, a defeat which really hurt us, so perhaps you do have to lose one to win one and hopefully Abbeyside will take heart for that. There is not a shadow of doubt that we did not want to lose another final. Abbeyside were short a few players and that did not help them but I firmly believe that we would have won anyway. It was that sort of day.
“This is brilliant not only for the men I mentioned and people like Noel Dalton Snr who has served this club for well over 50 years, but also for the De La Salle Brothers who have served this community for over a hundred years. The schools are our base and that is why it is wonderful to bring the cup to those schools today.”
A day of celebrations was on the cards for the remainder of Monday but then the celebrations would be put on ice as the newly-crowned champions got ready for Sunday’s Munster Club semi-final against Sarsfields in Pairc Ui Caoimh.
“We will knuckle down on Tuesday night and get ready for that game,” said the manager. “We are proud to be representing Waterford and we will give everything we have to try and win. Ideally we would have liked an extra week but that cannot be. Abbeyside had to play us a week after their replay victory over Ballyduff and perhaps they suffered a little because of that, but we will not allow that get to us.
“This is another chance for us to make it another great day for the club. Men like our chairman Seamus Quirke and Joey Carton will expect nothing more.”
As he prepared to catch up with his champions, I asked Eoin if his father Francie had come to terms with what his son had achieved 24 hours earlier. “I think he is just getting his head around it now. He was there on Sunday and I never saw him so happy. Yeah, he was a proud father alright,” concluded a proud son, who was quite rightly glowing in the truly wonderful success of this extraordinary club.