Waterford by the grace of God – or by choice

Dressing room, Tipperary, 2002

The cup was now paraded around the pitch. Brian Flannery set the ball rolling, charging toward the Uncovered Stand with the trophy held aloft. I doubt if it were planned, but he was an oddly appropriate choice, the outsider gone native. A newspaper article from earlier in the day had traced his development from Tipperary underage teams to the Waterford seniors. His statement that “every time I pull on a Waterford jersey, I give thanks for my second chance” was a lovely sentiment, especially when you think he might have ended up back at Tipperary a few years ago.

Waterford 2-23 (29) Tipperary 3-12 (21) – Part IV: The Aftermath, 30 June 2002

Listening to updates from the fourteen men of Waterford’s valiant effort to extend their stay in this year’s football championship – is it me or do we rarely seem to end big games with the full complement? – was a surreal experience as there was far more fuss made of the “thirty-to-fifty second” appearance of Seanie Johnston for the hurlers of Coill Dubh in the Kildare county championship.

I’m not going to get het up over the wider significance of Johnston’s switch to Kildare. There does seem to be something fishy about his eligibility to switch clubs but given the hoops he had to jump through to secure the switch it seems unlikely that his is a path that others will follow. There are plenty of ways of switching that honour both the letter and the spirit of the law so don’t expect a flood of Seanie-style refuseniks clogging up the in-trays of county secretaries any time soon.

And it was one of those who did it the ‘right’ way who came to mind while listening to Seanie trying to work out which end of the hurley was the bas. Walking through the L&N SuperValu in Tramore earlier on in the day, who should I spy but Brian Flannery. Cue a  farcical  scene as I tried to surreptitiously point him out to my wife and she assumed I meant the old man behind him because all the heroes in the GAA either have grey beards or are dead. Hold fast to the past.

When I got home and listened to the farcical scene in Clane, it struck me that Brian Flannery’s heritage didn’t bother me at all. Looking back through the blog via the search function in the top right, I was relieved to see that I haven’t left myself any hostages to fortune about Flannery. I remember a comment made by a Waterford supporter in the vicinity at a match when he was a little bit loose with the hurley where said supporter noted how Flannery brought “the Tipp stuff” to Waterford. As if no-one in Waterford ever lowered the blades, but Tipperary didn’t spawn Hell’s Kitchen for nothing. In short, Brian Flannery is now one of us. He didn’t have to go through a charade like Johnston did on Saturday to play for Waterford, he did his thing in the trenches of Mount Sion first, to the extent that when they had the choice of captain for the senior captain in 1999, they chose Flannery.

You could argue that Seanie Johnston has the chance to rise to that level. All it will take would be a cup or two for the Lilywhites to eradicate any misgivings about the manner of his arrival on the Kildare. But Flannery earned his spurs long before that glorious day in Cork in 2002 (see above). Playing for a county team is a splendid thing, but there’s no point in playing for any old county team. You have to play for your own, and Brian Flannery did. I wonder whether we’ll ever be able to say the same for Seanie.