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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 16 May 2021

'At the time I was kind of in a happy bubble. Then I got brought down to earth fairly quick'

A starter at 18, Brian O’Halloran has had to be patient in returning with Waterford.

Brian O'Halloran and Conor O'Mahony Brian O'Halloran in action against Tipperary in 2010. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

YOU MAY REMEMBER the start of his senior days but lost track of his journey thereafter.

Brian O’Halloran was the rabbit Davy Fitzgerald pulled from the hat in the summer of 2010.

A Leaving Cert student whose first senior outing for the Waterford hurlers was the Munster final replay.

After being sprung from the bench his first touch of the ball was to fire over a point on a night when the rain teemed down in Semple Stadium and Waterford celebrated a famous win.

Shane Murphy and Brian O'Halloran Brian O'Halloran in action in the 2010 Munster senior hurling final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

His reward was to be pitched in from the start for an August All-Ireland semi-final battle with Tipperary.

The teenager was not named in the side announced on the Friday night but word of his dramatic inclusion spread like wildfire at home in Clashmore-Kinsalebeg.

By the time of throw-on at Croke Park on Sunday, the youngster’s progression had been well flagged.

The story didn’t have a happy ending that day. 22 minutes in and O’Halloran found himself substituted, a victim of high deliveries to his corner-forward spot which an experienced defender like Paul Curran thrived upon.

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“It was a disaster personally for myself,” recalls the 26-year-old.

“Davy had good faith in me and things were going well in training. At the time I was kind of in a happy bubble. Then I got brought down to earth fairly quick.

“But I wouldn’t give out about Davy for that. He made the call and at the time I’d good confidence in myself and Davy had good confidence in me. Probably in hindsight I wasn’t ready physically or mentally. I was only 18 at the time.

“I came up against a great Tipp team, Paul Curran a brilliant full back. The confidence of youth, I wasn’t really thinking of the negative things that could happen.

“I was just thinking I’ll go out here now and Croke Park will suit me. But inter-county isn’t like that.

“Very disappointing day personally and I suppose we lost that day as well, wasn’t easy. It was probably tough on my family, as a youngster, reading tough things about you in the paper and stuff like that.

“That was my first year. I wasn’t long experiencing the highs and lows of inter-county in a way.”

Brian O'Halloran is replaced in the first half Brian O'Halloran was withdrawn early on in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final Source: James Crombie

And what happened then?

This is a comeback story but not in a fairytale manner that saw him dazzle the following summer. O’Halloran’s participation in a squad gearing up for an All-Ireland senior final on Sunday is a testament to patience and perseverance.

But it took a long time for things to come right for him. After that 2010 setback against Tipperary, he only made two championship appearances in the next five seasons – starting in the 2013 Munster quarter-final against Clare and the 2015 semi-final against Cork.

Brian O’Halloran and Stephen McDonnell Waterford's Brian O'Halloran and Cork's Stephen McDonnell in action in 2015. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The two points he grabbed in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Wexford marked the first time he was on the scoresheet since that 2010 Munster final replay.

Yet the derailing of his career was not the upshot of that substitution against Tipperary. Instead he was cursed by injuries and struggled to get a proper run at staking a claim.

“I tore my hamstring tendon the following March and missed a year. I was getting back into the swing of things a year later and I tore my ankle ligaments.

“I suppose I would have had the name of being injury prone but it was actually only two major injuries and they took it out of the body. It was hard to get back on the wagon after them.

“I know you’re thinking was there mental scars or whatever. But I’d two or three years of bad injuries, that was the most frustrating thing. They set me back a lot more than the mental side of it.”

Brian O'Halloran Waterford hurler Brian O'Halloran Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Of course the temptation to chuck it all in crossed his mind at times during those barren years.

But O’Halloran reckoned that watching on if Waterford were successful was not something he could cope with.

“Look there were times when I was thinking I should be in America on a J1 or I should be in Cheltenham in March, not rehabbing for National League.

“But Derek’s always on about persistence and bide your time and stay at it. He was a very talented minor, he said he never stayed at it and he regrets it.

“My greatest fear was being over in America, seeing Waterford win an All-Ireland, knowing I could have had some part to play in it.

“I don’t think I could live with the regrets of that. I wanted to do as much as I could for as long as I can. If I wasn’t wanted or if I wasn’t required, so be it but I wanted to stay on my own terms.”

Brian O’Halloran and Tommy Ryan celebrate at the final whistle Brian O'Halloran and Tommy Ryan celebrate Waterford's semi-final success against Cork. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He persisted and has been rewarded. Last summer he saw action in four games and this year has kicked on again. Even in defeat to Cork in June, O’Halloran caught the eye during his second-half cameo for Waterford.

He’s maintained that form with outings off the bench against Kilkenny, Wexford and Cork, snapping over points in the latter two games.

“It’s worked. It’s like everything, we’re acutely aware it won’t work every day. We’ve been fortunate it has worked the last two or three games. I don’t think it’s as formulated a plan as people might make out.

“You still you don’t know when you’re coming on, you’re hoping, you’re presuming, you’re getting yourself ready.

“It’s what Derek wanted from day one, a decent panel and I think he has that now. We’re just happy to be coming on and to be working hard.”

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Brian O'Halloran Brian O'Halloran celebrates scoring a point for Waterford against Wexford in July. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

O’Halloran and his club mate Tadhg de Búrca have emerged in a western pocket of the county where hurling has flourished. He confesses to being more into football as a youngster with Clashmore-Kinsalebeg.

He kicked ball with Waterford at minor level. The Sunday after Waterford’s semi-final win over Cork, he was up in Croke Park watching the gripping draw that Kerry-Mayo played out.

“Football is fascinating, I know it gets a bad rep at times but when there’s good teams going at it, it’s unreal.

“When I was growing up, it was always the Maurice Fitzgerald’s and the Gooch’s and players like that, just the attraction of Kerry, kind of romantic football isn’t it?

“We grew up a lot watching the likes of Dan and Ken and Eoin Murphy play. The structures were put in place, we received the best of coaching in Clashmore. Just because we were a small junior/intermediate club doesn’t mean we were neglected by Waterford coaching.

“There are no barriers now. If you’re from a junior club, you’ll get a chance, if you’re from an intermediate club you’ll get a chance.

“That’s the great thing about Waterford. Maybe we’re a bit smaller than other counties, not too many good hurlers fall through the net.”

Tadhg de Burca and TJ Reid Clashmore-Kinsalebeg player Tadhg de Búrca in action against Kilkenny. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Teaching in Killeagh in East Cork and hailing from a border parish, left O’Halloran well aware of the significance of the semi-final win.

He’s embraced returning to school this week in the build-up and hopes for a better experience than the 2008 final as a supporter.

“I was standing on the terrace (Hill), very hopeful at 3.30, very crestfallen at quarter-to-four.

“There was great build up, huge hype. I had been following Waterford 10 years at that stage and hadn’t got to the final.

“We came up against a huge Kilkenny team, the best I have ever seen. I couldn’t say a bad word about that Waterford team. They were heroes growing up.

“As a group we are close, tight knit. No better man than Derek to make sure that we were still focused on the All-Ireland.

“I was back to school on Tuesday. The kids are great. It will be great craic now for the few days leading up to it. It will be a nice distraction.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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