Apart from the cranks who can’t stand a bit of crest-clutching, the reason so many people took to Dan Shanahan — and not just here in Waterford, but throughout Ireland — was because he was, and is, the salt of the earth.
Plus Dan (surname entirely extraneous) was as unmistakable as Waterford WERE unmissable. He didn’t wear a faceguard, half the teeth were in a glass somewhere, and he is (the ladies tell me) “a feckin’ fine thing.” Apparently sallow skin, a broad smile, chest hair and tattoos makes for a mean package. Better again when you can score goals in front of 50,000 people for fun.
A shooting star with his feet firmly on the ground, the oil lorry driver with the nationwide fanbase, it might sound lame but Shanahan epitomised ‘sexy hurling’ in its pre-helmet heyday. Class finishing and charisma combined.
He was fond of his fashion – few could pull off a post-match interview in an army cap and pink floral t-shirt – and changed hairstyles more often than Tommy Walsh breaks hurleys. For some he was Mr Flash of the Ash, primarily personality and passion. But behind the style there was serious substance.
He announced his arrival as a bona fide senior talent under Gerald McCarthy in 1998, scoring six points from play against Kerry on an all-too-nervy afternoon in Tralee, then two including the insurance score in the epochal triumph over Tipp, and three off Anthony Daly no less in the tied Munster final.
Having helped Lismore beat Ballygunner in an U21 county final at 15, won a senior medal at 16, and scored 2-1 against Clare in the League in his first senior start for Waterford less than a year later, fear wasn’t in his vocabulary, it seemed.
Indeed, Daly later recounting to journalist Denis Walsh, author of ‘Hurling: The Revolution Years’, how Dan had taunted him the day of the draw above in Thurles: “You’re not on Seanie McGrath now boy!”. (“No, you’re uglier,” was the comeback, as Dan recalls it.)
But the self-belief was brittle. The following few seasons were fallow as Waterford struggled to build on their initial breakthrough. He was made a scapegoat in some quick-to-forget quarters and his confidence suffered. He admitted to suffering “a dose of the jitters” directly before Waterford’s 2000 exit to Tipp. The reaction was unforgiving.
Dan couldn’t hack the detractors. In a ‘Hogan Stand’ Q&A twelve years ago he was asked what he hated most about hurling. “Too many critics”. The wording he had inked on his arm translates as “If you don’t know me, don’t judge me” (an artwork he shared with little-known Ecuadorian striker Ivan Kaviedes). An extreme expression of a fair enough request.
The outward exuberance belied a shyness those who know him longest will attest to. More recently, when his young daughter was left in tears following the abuse that rained down on him during that poor performance against Clare two years ago (the one that culminated in the infamous ‘brush’ with/past Justin) he took it badly, letting it be known that hurling wasn’t the be all and end all.
They were fraught times, as they were a few years before when he couldn’t even make the ‘subs used’ addendum in the 2003 Munster final, having come on in the famine-ending victory at Páirc Uí Chaoimh twelve months previously.
The manager seemed to have given up on him, and possibly vice versa, until it all clicked the following year. A week after impressing in the League final loss to Galway he cut loose on Clare with a stunning hat-trick in only his second championship start under McCarthy, J.. Unlike Davy Fitz that day, he’s never looked back since. He bagged two more against Tipp in the semi and 1-3 in the classic provincial showpiece versus Cork. A legend was born.
After an average 2005 for player and county (almost coinciding with him losing his job along with 120 others at Dungarvan Crystal), the following summer he was in flying form once more as, via the backdoor, including two magnificent points that proved the difference against Galway at Walsh Park, Waterford pushed Cork to within a puck of an All-Ireland final place; Dan hitting 1-5, all peaches, in gaining quarter-final ‘revenge’ over Tipp en route to another oh-so-near miss.
See The Munster Express newspaper for full story or subscribe to our PDF version.