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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021

'I was delighted for my family to witness such a great day for Waterford' - Recalling a Munster epic

Dan Shanahan remembers the 2004 Munster SHC final where the Déise were crowned champions.

THERE WAS ONLY one place Dan Shanahan wanted to be after the final whistle sounded in the 2004 Munster hurling final.

dan-shanahan-2762004 Dan Shanahan celebrates after winning the 2004 Munster final. Source: INPHO

A chaotic provincial decider had just finished one point in Waterford’s favour. It was their third Munster final appearance in-a-row, and their second title since 2002.

“Not a bad achievement for a team who were meant to have no heart or no bottle,” then Waterford captain Ken McGrath would later remark in the documentary ‘Final Words: Munster hurling final 2004.

Beating their neighbours — and reigning Munster champions — Cork in the final for the first time in 45 years was an extra sweetener, and a fitting end to an all-time classic game.

In a time before crowd control measures were firmly applied, Waterford supporters rushed the Semple Stadium field at the final whistle. Captain McGrath would later say in his book ‘Hand on Heart’ that he stumbled through the Irish portion of his speech as he tried to relay the stewards’ safety warnings to the fans who were in danger of causing a crush on the field.

Amidst all the chaos, Shanahan had one place in mind to commence his celebrations after helping himself to 1-3.

“I just ran to the right-hand side,” the Lismore man tells The42, reminiscing about that June day almost 16 years on.

My family were over that side of the field. It was one of proudest days. I was delighted for my family to witness such a great day for everyone in Waterford. All the supporters came onto the field, I’ll never forget it.

“Watching Ken McGrath making his speech after one of the greatest Munster finals that they still talk about, it’s stuff you dream of where I come from. 

“Cork and Waterford have produced some unbelievable games over the years.”

Shanahan could sense that the 2004 Munster championship was edging towards a dramatic conclusion that day.

The team bus was surrounded by fans as they made their way through Thurles. Shanahan could see columns of red jerseys out the window on one side and a wave of blue and white on the opposite flank.

“I always sat in the middle seat on the back of the bus to stretch my legs and I just took it in,” he recalls.

“I parked it, I knew it was going to be a massive day for Waterford and the atmosphere was unbelievable, I’ll never forget it.

“It’s days that your family have sacrificed for you, to get to these days. In the moment that day, I’ll never forget being on the bus and the atmosphere going into the stadium.”

Wearing the 11 jersey that day, Shanahan set up camp around the ’40 with star Cork defender John Gardiner for company. During that era, the rebels boasted an iconic half-back line of Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Together, they finished up with seven All-Ireland titles and seven All-Star awards between them.

Shanahan says there were a lot of switches in Waterford’s formation whenever they came up against Cork in those days, but for that final, the then Déise manager Justin McCarthy advised him that Ó hAilpín would be marking him.

Instead, Gardiner was the one who was selected for the job. But Ó hAilpín was eventually called for the switch as Dan The Man began to hit his stride.

dan-shanahan-and-sean-og-ohailpin-2762004 Dan Shanahan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Source: INPHO

“I would have had a lot of tussles with Seán over the years,” says Shanahan.

“I didn’t give a hoot who I was marking, I was prepared for Seán Óg and Justin had me prepared for Seán Óg. John is a fantastic hurler and I was just in the zone and I didn’t care who I marked.

“I was fully focused on my job and what I had to do that day. We switched a lot anyway ourselves and you couldn’t really focus on who you were marking. Donal Óg [Cusack] in goals and the six backs were as good as any backs, and they proved it over the years.”

Shanahan and Gardiner had a mild clash during the first half. Gardiner was seen cradling his face on the ground with Shanahan standing over him, as Cork goalkeeper Cusack raced out to defend his team-mate.

The incident amounted to nothing more than a scolding from the referee Seanie McMahon, although a replay of the tussle showed Shanahan’s fist connecting with Gardiner’s jaw.

Waterford infamously did go down to 14 men that day, but it wasn’t Shanahan who saw the line. And in that moment, he wasn’t concerned about seeing a red card either.

“I’d worry now if I was playing in the last two or three years but I didn’t worry back then. I think referees were a lot more lenient [back then]. Seanie McMahon was a fantastic referee. He took us aside, he didn’t book me, he didn’t book any of us. It wasn’t one of the best jabs I ever threw in my life, it was a little tip.

To be honest, if I wanted to hit someone I’d hit them with my right hand not my left hand. I wasn’t worried, myself and John had a bit of banter afterwards.”

Despite winning the Munster title two years previously, Waterford were considered underdogs for the 2004 Munster final. The old adage of “needing a good start” in order to keep pace with the reigning Munster champions was rolled out in advance.

Source: gaatvland/YouTube

But a bizarre goal from Cork forward Garvan McCarthy after three minutes ensured that Waterford got the complete opposite. By the 10th minute, they were trailing by 1-5 to 0-3.

Players who featured in those Cork v Waterford thrillers of the early noughties often recall the searing pace that came with those games. Shanahan points to the work of Waterford’s physical trainer Gerry Fitzpatrick for perfecting their engines in the 2004 season, and insists that they didn’t fret after that poor start in the Munster final.

“He was key for us being so fit that year,” says Shanahan of Fitzpatrick’s contribution.

“He really took it by the scruff of the neck. He brought us to gyms and we were doing stuff that we never did before.

“Cork had serious forwards but we never panicked that day. We always believed that we had the players that could get goals.

“Eoin Kelly got one of the best goals that day. We never panicked. If Cork went ahead, we knew we could draw them back.”

Cork had the superior scoring efficiency in the first half of that final. Just before the break, a statistic showed that the Rebels had converted 14 of the 17 scoring opportunities they created. Waterford had just 10 scores from 19 chances.

And yet, Cork had a slender 1-14 to 2-8 lead at half-time, with Kelly and Shanahan providing the goals for Waterford.

The advantage was down to two points in the early stages of the restart. John Mullane picked up his second point of the afternoon with the first puck at the posts. Moments later, his game was over and Waterford were without one of their key forwards for the rest of the final.

There was an apparent strike on Cork defender Brian Murphy, but Shanahan says he didn’t see it.

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“I turned around and John was in a bit of bother with the umpires. They obviously saw something.

I saw the reaction of Donal Óg in goal and Sully [Diarmuid O'Sullivan], and I knew it couldn’t be good. I think the reaction of John as well going off the field, he must have done something that was appropriate for a red card.

“It really galvanised us. One of the full-backs was going to get a short puckout to launch the ball but we did our best to close them down. I think our forwards worked extremely hard that day with John off the field. We chased every ball.”

john-mullane-walks-from-the-field-after-being-sent-off-2762004 John Mullane after being sent off. Source: INPHO

That galvanising effect really took shape in the 50th minute. Cork were two points in front when Waterford were awarded a free about 35 metres away from goal. The location was at a slight angle to the posts, but an ideal position for a free-taker to get a point and leave one between them.

Paul Flynn was getting a mixed return from his dead ball shots that day. He missed one a few moments previously, while also hitting the post from a free in front of the posts in the first half.

But he stepped up again and went for the spectacular. In Shanahan’s Laochra Gael episode, Ó hAilpín says Shanahan warned him and Cusack that Flynn was going to try for a goal.

That’s exactly how Shanahan remembers it too.

“I trained with Flynn for 10 or 12 years in Waterford and the stuff he did with a dead ball was unbelievable. In the previous free, he took a chance and it went over the bar. This time he just looked. I just knew by the angle.

“I was standing in front of Donal Óg and Seán Óg at the time. Sully was on the line. Even if Flynn was to dip it and you got a touch on it, it could go anywhere. I did wave my hurley because Flynn was going under [the bar].

He had the audacity to go for a goal and it really lifted us. We certainly believed again.

“And by God did we work our socks off after the goal went in. I don’t think many other lads would be able to do that.”

That goal edged Waterford in front. The concluding stages were chaotic as the workrate of Waterford forward Séamus Prendergast proved vital in edging them over the line.

Shanahan even had to ask Ó hAilpín about the scoreline as the final seconds trickled away. Diarmuid O’Sullivan advanced up the field to try and engineer one last attack for Cork who were one point behind, but it was to be a blue and white day in the end.

Ken McGrath’s match-winning fetch at the death sealed Waterford’s triumph, a fitting final act to bring one of the greatest ever games of hurling to a close.

“It’s fresh enough really,” says Shanahan who has never watched the match back in full. It will be on TV again this Easter weekend, but the memories are still clear in his mind.

“We haven’t won many Munster titles in Waterford and to be involved in such an unbelievable game. 

“It’s amazing when you come to 2020, you haven’t seen those players in a lot of years. They were your best friends when you were training. Then you’re all packed up and you leave and you probably don’t see them as much.”

The 2004 Munster SHC final between Cork and Waterford will be on TG4 on Sunday at 14.00 

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