| 0.2°C Dublin

bevans sent Two Tipperary men have reignited Waterford as a serious hurling force

Close

Deise’s ‘A’ team Liam Cahill and Mickey Bevans (r)

Deise’s ‘A’ team Liam Cahill and Mickey Bevans (r)

Deise’s ‘A’ team Liam Cahill and Mickey Bevans (r)

There was a sliding-door moment in hurling in September 2018 which led to Waterford’s surprise appearance in today’s All-Ireland final.

Michael Ryan had stepped down as Tipperary boss after a torrid summer. Liam Cahill appeared in pole position to succeed him

As a player Cahill never realised the potential he displayed as a 19-year-old, when he won an All-Star in 1996 after a sensational rookie season.

When Tipperary won the All-Ireland five years later, Cahill, who ought to have been at his prime, was a non-playing substitute.

But as a coach he had built up an impressive CV by 2018. He first became involved with Declan Ryan’s minor management team in 2007 when Tipperary won the All-Ireland. He spent two more years as a minor selector before returning as its boss in 2013.

After the team was beaten by Clare in the 2014 championship, Cahill decided he needed to share the workload. He recruited Toomevara native Mickey Bevans to his management team.

They had played together on under-age Tipperary teams and though Bevans’s inter-county career never got off the ground, he became a pivotal player on the Toomevara club team which won 10 county titles.

Bevans’s attention to detail had impressed everybody he worked with. His first senior coaching job in Tipperary was with the Upperchurch Drombane club in 2013.

Before he met the players for the first time, he asked the club chairman for a photograph of each player so he could greet them by name at their first meeting.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, club chairman James Barry said Bevans made a lasting impact during his two years. “The whole culture of the club changed. He set standards. The impression he made was huge.”

Cahill and Bevans hit it off straight away and during the next four years Tipperary won one All-Ireland minor title (2016), one All-Ireland U-21 (2018) and one All-Ireland U-20 title (2019).

Close

Jack Fagan of Waterford, here scoring his side’s first goal of the game despite the efforts of Dan Morrissey of 
Limerick in the League in March

Jack Fagan of Waterford, here scoring his side’s first goal of the game despite the efforts of Dan Morrissey of Limerick in the League in March

Jack Fagan of Waterford, here scoring his side’s first goal of the game despite the efforts of Dan Morrissey of Limerick in the League in March

Ultimately, Cahill didn’t get the Tipperary senior gig which was hardly surprising. Once Liam Sheedy – who managed the team when they ended Kilkenny’s bid for five-in-row in 2010 – indicated he was interested in returning, he was a shoo-in for the job.

Cahill stayed on as the Tipp U-20 manager for another season. But when Waterford came calling last autumn, he jumped at the chance to manage a county senior team for the first time.

His home in Ballingarry is less than an hour’s drive from Waterford and his right-hand man Bevans was familiar with hurling in the Deise due to his involvement with Waterford IT teams in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

It was still a risky move. Waterford had contested the 2017 All-Ireland final but their stock had plummeted in the meantime. Cahill was their third manager in 13 months.

Derek McGrath had departed after the 2018 Munster campaign, during which his side had failed to win a game.

Initially, they did well under his successor Páraic Fanning and reached the league final but were well beaten by Limerick (1-24; 0-19). The championship turned into a car crash after they suffered a one-point loss to Clare at Walsh Park in the first round. They lost their other three games by an aggregate of 51 points.

Fanning opted not to see out the second year of his term. Nonetheless, his role in the development of the current team should not be dismissed – Conor Prunty, Calum Lyons and Jack Prendergast all made their championship debuts in 2019.

There was a sense of shock and awe about Cahill’s arrival in Waterford last October. He dropped long-time captain Noel Connors as well as forward Maurice Shanahan. It had the desired impact, as 2017 Hurler of the Year Austin Gleeson acknowledged.

“When I heard that Noel and Maurice were cut from the panel, it was a signal of intent of what way the lads wanted to go. It’s after making us train harder, a lot harder.

“The fear is there that he’s laying down his own marker. It’s something that maybe we needed, needed big time, to make us just as hungry again,” said Gleeson, who in his own words cancelled Christmas to focus on training.

Outside the group John Mullane (inset) was one of the first to realise that things might be different with Cahill.

Just after Christmas he dropped down to Carriganore to watch them train. Writing in the Irish Independent on the day of their semi-final against Kilkenny, Mullane recalled what he saw on that freezing night.

“What unfolded in the 90 minutes was a high-tempo session based around tackling and movement with Cahill and Mikey Bevans proactive throughout every bit of it. Then came the running with Offaly man Martin Bennett, whose name mightn’t be too familiar to many, but he put them through their paces.

“It was a session where I turned around to one chap taking notes and said: ‘Thank God I’m well retired’. My first thought returning to the car was that Waterford had two unbelievable men in charge that any other county would give their right arm for.”

The odds still looked stacked against them. Three of Waterford’s most experienced players Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Philip Mahony and Barry Coughlan retired, while the cruellest blow of all came on the eve of the championship when free-taker Pauric Mahony damaged his cruciate ligament for the second time in his career.

By then Meath native Jack Fagan and former Brighton and Hove Albion soccer player Dessie Hutchinson had established themselves as first-team players.

Cahill didn’t insist on the team adhering to a defined system, which had been the hallmark of Derek McGrath’s reign.

Instead, he trusted the players to rely on their instincts and they responded magnificently and none better than Stephen Bennett.

When he missed a couple of early frees against Cork in the Munster semi-final the prophets of doom were ready to pounce. But once he got his eye in, everything has flowed – culminating in his tour-de-force performance against Kilkenny.

But it is Limerick rather than the Cats who are setting the standards in hurling nowadays.

Waterford pushed them in the Munster final, though they never looked like winning the game. They failed to raise a green flag and scored just 11 points from play.

But, regardless of whether they can complete the fairy tale this afternoon, Cahill and Bevans have announced themselves as a formidable force in hurling management. Their day in the sun will come.

Online Editors


Privacy