He trudged off the Fraher Field sod on Saturday last, shoulders sunk, his unfollicled pate beaded in sweat. His 14th, and final Football Championship campaign with Waterford had drawn to a close.
Like so many talents lining out in the weaker inter-county code, Shane Briggs’s abilities weren’t known to a wider audience; proof, as if more was required, of the need to revamp a tired and jaded Championship system.
In Dungarvan last Saturday, particularly in the first half, Shane Briggs surged upfield, then he surged upfield again, and then he surged upfield again.
He threw his hands in the air in frustration on occasion when moves broke down, and when he sent a shot wide himself, at no time was his angst greater. The good ones are always hardest on themselves.
It was a courageous, inspirational and wholly admirable last stand from a man whose footballing efforts, in my view, have not been bettered by any Deise player in this century. And it’s not that he’s without company in that respect: Gary Hurney, Brian Wall, Shane Ahearne, Wayne Hennessy, etc.
Like Tipp’s Declan Browne before him, had Shane Briggs been born in Cork or Kerry, he’d have two handfuls of medals on his sideboard by now. But he was proud as any to wear the white and blue, and by God did he wear it with distinction.
Shane had hoped that Niall Carew would be re-appointed as Deise boss in the wake of their Championship elimination to Carlow last summer, but the County Board thought otherwise. He felt that the Kildare man had, slowly but surely, set a process in train that would, in time, reap a reward.
“Take Donegal, for example. They must have been one of the most physically well-prepared sides when they won the All-Ireland a couple of years ago, but that team had been on the road for three to four years and then the following year, they were gone in terms of contending for the Sam Maguire. That shows how important is it for guys to stick with it.”
Carew led Sligo into a Connacht Final last Saturday and, without meaning or implying any disrespect to Tom McGlinchey, one wonders should the Waterford County Board have allowed Carew to continue a job he himself felt was incomplete, two years in.
“It takes time for players to bed in, and don’t forget there’s a massive step-up in turn from senior club football to inter-county football, which effectively means you’re into heavy training from October each year to get where you feel you need to for the following summer,”
Shane told me a year ago.
“The exposure to top class football probably isn’t there for Waterford, but there are plenty of good footballers in Waterford. Plenty.”
There are some hurling people (as distinct from GAA people) in Waterford – don’t tell me there aren’t – who believe we shouldn’t bother at all with football. ‘Sure what’s the point’, the cribbers will claim. ‘We’ll never get anywhere with that team.’
We must not disregard the most widely played field sport in the country. Shane Briggs, and many more who have slogged away for little reward and scant praise, deserve better than that.