Sean Fleming’s daughters led him into camogie, he told The Munster Express in Walsh Park on Tuesday evening last. “Like a lot of other dads!” he added, as his players, full of chat and bristling with All-Ireland excitement, made for the dressing room.
“A few years back, Saint Mollerans in Carrick-on-Suir started up a camogie club and my brother-in-law was involved in it, and he asked me would I send my two girls in. I’m living in the parish of Piltown and any hurling I would have played would have been in Tipperary so I’m kind of a mongrel – and a lot of Carrick people would be!
“So the girls got into camogie and they enjoyed it – and as is often the case in a club, once people know you’ve played the game, you get brought in at coaching level and then, through the County Board, I got involved in inter-county development squads and so on. I know what’s here in the county, I know the girls that are coming through and I had a fairly clear idea when I took on the job with this team last January about what I needed to do; not dissimilar from Pat O’Sullivan’s situation with the Ladies Football panel.”
Sean continued: “Again, Pat would have been involved, similar to myself, at underage level and now Pat is having great success with the ladies football at adult level, and it’s great to see the county doing so well on two fronts.”
With a Division Two League title already on the sideboard, and having defeated Kildare in both the League and All-Ireland campaigns, Waterford ought to be confident heading into Sunday’s showpiece at Croke Park.
But, given the manner of Waterford’s recovery to emerge from a remarkable semi-final against Meath in Nowlan Park, one suspects complacency is a welcomingly rare commodity among Sean and his players.
“We’ve played Kildare twice already, so we know what kind of a team they are, and even though we won on both occasions, there were times during both matches when it could have gone either way, but thankfully we pulled away at each one of those times. And it’ll come to that stage again some time in Croke Park and we just have to prove ourselves yet again.”
That semi-final win over Meath, when his side rallied from a eight-point half-time deficit (which went out to nine early in the second half) may well, in time, represent a rite of passage for this group of players.
Sean Fleming’s young side had to go to the well in a way, collectively, they’d never been forced to up to now. And they drew up a lake, let alone a few buckets, to keep their All-Ireland dream alive.
“The semi-final was great,” he continued. “It was a really good character-building exercise. We were really up against it. We had strong words with each other at half-time, we came out for the second half very determined but the first thing that happened was that we conceded another point. It could have turned into a rout against us at that stage but the girls really knuckled down after that.
“The team understands now that if we play to our potential, then we can beat any team in the country but if we play like we did in the first half against Meath, then we can be beaten by any team in the country. Everybody knows what they have to do; we’ve been very focused in training over the last few weeks and been very determined in what we’re doing. We’ve been working on a number of things we felt didn’t work for us in the semi-final and we’re hoping we’ll have it all pulled together for the final.”
Having faced a sweeper against Meath and with Kildare also deploying a sweeper in their semi-final win over Cork, is Sean Fleming anticipating an additional back for his charges to contend with at Croker?
“I think Kildare will come out with a sweeper-type system,” he admitted. “They played a version of what Derek McGrath played (with the Waterford hurlers), bringing back their half-back line quite deep…and they tried to isolate two players in the full-forward line. I would presume they’ll try and do something like that against us so we have to be ready for that – Stephen Dormer is a very experienced manager, he’s been around the scene for a long time and had a lot of inter-county success with Kilkenny and with Kildare in 2012, so I’m sure he’ll have a number of game plans – there won’t be just a Plan A – there’ll be a Plan B and a Plan C too.”
Sean Fleming praised his side’s ability to react and adapt to whoever they’re facing. “There’s a lot of game management done by the players in the game itself. We talk to them before the game starts and during half-time about realigning in certain areas and we make substitutions to help at various times during the game to assist in counteracting…but in essence a lot of work is done by the girls themselves. We’ve tried to give them the freedom to play and express themselves during games and the only time it didn’t work was in that first half against Meath.
“But apart from that, we’ve played with a certain level of expression and confidence in our ability…Kildare will try different things, but we just have to react to that, both on the field and on the line.”
Since assuming the top job in Deise camogie, Sean Fleming’s instincts have served him well and his players have proven just as effective. One more win in 2015 would do very nicely indeed.