While reading around in the build-up to the county final last Sunday, I was mildly surprised to discover that the last time Passage played on the big day was in 1997, also against Ballygunner. ‘Surprised’ because I was at this game and in an ongoing reductive assessment of my own relationship with Waterford GAA, I assumed that game must have been after 1998 because hurling didn’t exist before then, did it? I’m not as bad an arriviste as I had assumed.
These thoughts came up as I hoped that Passage might somehow turn back the tide of history. The loss in 1997 was their third in five years in the county final and while the current Ballygunner vintage might be a little more vulnerable than that team, for whom the win was their third win on the trot, even an arriviste would be able to see who were favourites. A prior engagement with the future Waterford All-Ireland winning captain meant I wasn’t going to make it but I wasn’t likely to miss much. Casting my mind back to the slaughter two years ago between the Gunners and Tallow and I was almost grateful to be missing out.
Well, damn it. What a game, what a finish. Things can change quickly in club hurling. The last team to win the county title for the first time are now the team to beat in Waterford, while that three-in-a-row Ballygunner team must wonder where they went wrong in bequeathing a legacy robust enough to appear in thirteen of the last fifteen finals but win only five of them. Maybe in a few year’s time we’ll be looking at Passage as the team to beat. Maybe it’ll be an outlier in a series of disappointments for them. But the first time will always be the best, and it can’t be taken away from them.