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First All-Ireland senior final at 19, playing schools hurling in Cork and loyalty to Waterford

Iarlaith Daly is hoping for an injury-free run at the 2022 season.

Updated Sat 6:15 AM

AFTER TWO APPEARANCES in the National League, Iarlaith Daly’s championship debut for Waterford as a 61st minute substitute in the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford. 

Two weeks later, his services were required just 21 minutes into the final against Limerick. Tadhg De Burca went down with a torn cruciate and at just 19, Daly was required to fill in for the two-time All-Star at centre-back.

iarlaith-daly Waterford’s Iarlaith Daly during the 2020 All-Ireland final. Source: Inpho

“At the time it was obviously very nerve-wracking,” recalls Daly. “That year I had actually fractured my ankle before the Cork game and that saw me out for the first few games.

“Then I was only coming right towards the semi-final and final. Next thing Tadhg got injured and I was thrown in at the deep end.

“There wasn’t really a whole pile to think about. At the time it was just that you had to go on and perform and try to put in a performance.

“I suppose it probably went well for a while but we ultimately we ended up losing the game, that’s the most important thing, and trying to reflect on that was hard. 

“But, yeah, all in all, it was a fairly nerve-wracking experience.”

Despite his youth, Liam Cahill saw no issue in throwing Daly into the fray in a game of such importance. 

“I think in Liam’s eyes it doesn’t really matter what age you are. If you’re able to contribute something, he’ll play you. That’s his take on things and I was obviously no exception. 

“There’s obviously levels and a massive difference in physicality and speed of play. But as I said about the All-Ireland Final, you don’t have much time to think about it. It’s so hectic and in your face you don’t really get time to process it. It’s just go out, have a cut, and see how you get on really, to be honest.”

Daly’s performance that afternoon on the biggest stage of all was one of the rare bright points for the Deise in the 11-point defeat. With De Burca looking set to miss the entire 2021 season, Daly looked like a ready made replacement in the number six role. 

However, more bad fortune with injury meant he sat out the final three games of Waterford’s championship campaign in 2021. It was meant to be the year he properly established himself on Liam Cahill’s team, but instead he was forced to look on in frustration. 

“After we played Laois in the qualifiers I tore my quad in the training after the game,” he says.

“That saw me out for the rest of the inter-county season and then after that finished we got back with club and played one game against Tallow and tore the same quad again.  

“So, yeah, a bit frustrating all in all. But, you know, had to get down and work hard and I’m back now to full fitness. I spent a lot of time rehabbing and getting it up to the same strength as the other quad.

“Feeling good now, I’ve been training on it ever since and it doesn’t seem to be giving me any bother. Fingers crossed it stays that way.”

iarlaith-daly Iarlaith Daly before playing the 2019 Harty Cup final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The Lismore clubman followed an unusual path. He moved schools from Waterford to CBC Cork for education purposes in 2018 for fifth and sixth year, but his hurling benefited massively from the move. 

The school was traditionally a rugby power but a renewed focus on hurling saw them produce a number of successful teams 

“They’re a very good education driven school and that’s actually purely why I moved,” he says. “It just happened that we had a fairly decent Harty Cup team at the time.

“Donal O’Mahony and Tony Wall have done a brilliant job there. Donal is actually the manager of the Cork U20s at the moment and they’ve done massive work there and some very good players have gone through there.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to win the titles in recent years, but there’s been some brilliant work done there. 

Daly played alongside Cork senior panellists Robert Downey, Tommy O’Connell, Shane Barrett, Padraig Power and Jack Cahalane during his time in the school.

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In 2019 a side featuring Daly, his younger brother Carthach, Barrett, Power and Cahalane reached the Harty Cup final where they fell to Midleton CBS.

Living with his older brother who is working in Cork, Daly is now studying in UCC. He is playing alongside a number of his former schoolmates in the college.  

“I’d know a lot of the Cork lads anyway. The likes of Shane Barrett, Rob Downey, Tommy O’Connell, and all of them. We’d keep in touch a lot and they’re obviously involved with Cork and oftentimes we’d be training together and all of that stuff. 

“I wouldn’t be living with them but I’d still be in contact with a lot of them.”

iarlaith-daly Iarlaith Daly was speaking to preview the Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Holders UCC begin their Fitzgibbon Cup campaign next week and after that Daly’s focus will return to Waterford. Cahill’s decision to turn down the chance to manage his native Tipperary and remain in Waterford was a major boost, he admits. 

“It was no secret that the players really wanted Liam and Mikey to stay on. They’re an incredibly honest bunch, very straight with us and very easy to approach as well.

“They kind of brought something different to the set-up. There’s a lot of buy-in there and we’re just really enjoying it and enjoying them while they’re here. 

“I suppose because they decided to stay on it was kind of a vote of confidence in us. We weren’t really paying much attention to the whole Tipp scenario. We were kind of more focused on ourselves.

“I think it’s up to us now to pay that back, if you like, and try to reward their loyalty towards us and we’re completely focused on doing just that. Yeah, it was a great vote of confidence in us as a group of players.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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