Cathal Noonan/INPHO Stephen O'Keeffe and Tadhg de Búrca are former Harty and Croke Cup medallists.
# Déise Delight
Where have Waterford's brilliant young hurlers come from?
There’s a rich pedigree of underage and third-level success coursing through the Déise camp.

IN MARCH 2008, the young hurlers of De La Salle College stormed to a second successive Harty Cup win, defeating Thurles CBS by 1-11 to 0-6 in the final.

Seven members of the Waterford panel of 26 for the Munster senior hurling semi-final victory over Cork last month featured on the DLS starting team at Leahy Park that day.

Stephen O’Keeffe was in goal and out the field, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Philip Mahony, Jake Dillon, Steven Daniels and Eddie Barrett played key roles.

When Waterford beat Cork in last month’s Munster senior hurling semi-final, O’Keeffe, Coughlan, Connors, Mahony and Dillon all started. Barrett came off the bench and Daniels was an unused sub.

The DLS representation would have been eight but for Pauric Mahony’s season-ending injury. He, too, won a Harty medal in 2008.

A year before that victory over Thurles, DLS claimed their first Harty Cup crown.

O’Keeffe was between the sticks and Connors, Philip Mahony and Daniels also played.

Those successful teams were managed, of course, by current Waterford senior boss Derek McGrath.

Noel Connors and Paul Guinan 22/4/2007 James Crombie / INPHO Noel Connors in action for De La Salle in the 2007 Croke Cup (All-Ireland) final. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

In February 2013, Dungarvan Colleges emulated the feats of DLS by claiming back-to-back Harty crowns.

Tadhg de Búrca, Tom Devine, Patrick Curran and Colin Dunford played as Dungarvan beat Our Lady’s Templemore by 2-21 to 1-11 in Tipperary town. 

All four had also played in the 2012 final victory over Nenagh CBS.

33sadida / YouTube

Against Cork in June, Dunford and de Búrca both started, and played well.

Off the bench, Devine scored a goal and Curran added a point.

In 2007 and 2008, DLS added Croke Cup (All-Ireland) titles to their Harty Cup wins, with Dungarvan Colleges following suit in 2013.

It’s not often, perhaps once in a lifetime, that a bunch of players of similar age and ability come through from the underage ranks at the same time.

But there were other signposts in recent years, like in 2011 when two Waterford teams contested the Dean Ryan (U16 1/2) final.

Blackwater Community School beat Dungarvan CBS by 0-11 to 0-8 in November to win a very first Dean Ryan title.

Stephen Bennett scored ten of Blackwater’s points on a chilly afternoon and his brother Shane also played in attack. Michael Kearney featured for Blackwater, who had a 0-5 haul from Curran.

Shane Bennett tackles Conor Lehane Cathal Noonan / INPHO Shane Bennett (tackling Cork's Conor Lehane) scored two points off the bench in the Munster semi-final. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Taking those graduates from DLS, Dungarvan Colleges and Blackwater CS as a whole, 13 of the 19 players used against Cork featured on those schools teams. Their rate of progress has been simply phenomenal.

When Dungarvan Colleges, known as Coláiste na nDéise then, beat De La Salle in the 2012 Harty Cup semi-final, six current Waterford senior panellists featured. 

Devine, de Búrca, Dunford and Patrick Curran played for Coláiste na nDéise, with a young Austin Gleeson and Shane McNulty in the DLS set-up.

Taking it a step further, six current senior panel members started in the 2013 All-Ireland minor final victory over Galway and the career paths of many Waterford players at third-level have followed similar lines.

Jake Dillon, Pauric Mahony, Martin O’Neill, Austin Gleeson and Shane Fives have hurled for Waterford IT in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

HE GAA / YouTube

Down in Cork, Paudie Prendergast and Jamie Barron have worn the colours of UCC and Pauric Mahony did too, winning a Fitzgibbon medal in 2012.

When UCC retained the Fitzgibbon Cup in 2013, Darragh Fives played on the winning team and Brian O’Halloran lined out for runners-up Mary Immaculate College.

The list goes on and on but serves to illustrate how these Waterford senior players became exposed to big days and accustomed to success from a young age.

Kevin Moran and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh were the two most experienced players in the starting 15 against Cork but both men are former Fitzgibbon Cup winners for Waterford IT.

The Harty and Fitzgibbon Cup blood-line runs right through this Waterford team and together, they could claim the biggest provincial prize of them all against Tipperary at Semple Stadium on Sunday.

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