JUST BEFORE THE final whistle sounded in Semple Stadium last Sunday, Wayne Hutchinson retreated as Na Piarsaigh mounted one last attack.
All afternoon he had been immense at the heart of the Ballygunner defence. There was a six-point buffer on the scoreboard to protect. Once more he prepared to defend that central corridor.
As the delivery fell, Hutchinson grasped the dropping ball and prepared to surge upfield.
Then referee Nathal Wall drew a line under the action and Hutchinson raced away, arms raised and spread wide. The first team-mate he met was Barry O’Sullivan and clung to him in a celebratory mood.
He broke clear, released the straps of his helmet and sank to his knees. Soon his brother JJ was next to him on the turf as the scale of their achievement began to filter through.
And as their supporters spilled out onto the pitch, the trophy was lifted and the Ballygunner celebrations ensued, Hutchinson still clasped the sliotar firmly in his hand.
A precious memento from a day of deliverance.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
No one personified Ballygunner’s tale of heartbreak, resilience and eventual Munster success, better than 33-year-old Hutchinson.
As a teenager he stood in Thurles in 2001 and watched club idols make the breakthrough for Ballygunner. That sparked a desire to emulate that Munster success.
“I was here in 2001 as a 16-year-old, I was playing minor at the time with the club,” reflected Hutchinson after last Sunday’s game.
“That’s what made me want to play senior with Ballygunner. It was to do what the likes of Niall O’Donnell did, Rory O’Sullivan, Tom Fives, Andy Moloney, the late Paul Foley, all these guys. Absolute legends.
“Thankfully I got to play with a lot of them and thankfully now we can go back and say we’ve that we’ve the Munster championship. We got our reward.
“Leaving Waterford this morning, you’re kind of leaving the club and the homeplace and the hope. I said it to the father coming out, ‘Let’s do this’. I picked up the gearbag and I went because you just don’t know what’s around the corner.“
The disappointing days mounted up over the years. In 2005 Hutchinson was the injection of youth in the Ballygunner backline as they were pipped by a point by Newtownshandrum in a Munster final. Four years later he was in defence again for a repeat pairing in the provincial decider. Same outcome, two points to spare for the North Cork men on that occasion.
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After that they had tough days in Waterford and when they emerged from the county, they met roadblocks. Hutchinson lined out in his third Munster final last November and the upshot was a familiar one as Na Piarsaigh swept to honours.
Those setbacks on the pitch corresponded with sufferings off it. In 2014 Hutchinson shared the personal story of his battle with depression. It was powerful and eloquent and moving. Last weekend in The Sunday Times, he delved again into the story of his struggles.
Throughout all those times of hardship, GAA has been a constant in his life. He played full-back for the Waterford senior side in the Munster championship in 2011. He had spells with the Waterford football squad, excelled for WIT college sides and sparkled for his county in the underage ranks.
Ballygunner was his club and base through it all. After multiple days of glory in Waterford, there was a thirst to succeed on a bigger stage.
Hutchinson shone last Sunday as they realised that ambition at last.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. I’ve been beaten in a lot of finals, so thankfully we got there in the end and thankfully we’re Munster champions.
“We were in there at half-time, we were in the exact same position as we were in last year’s final, a point up. The one thing we said was, don’t leave it slip. Go out and just throw off the shackles and just go for it.”
Thanks to everyone for the messages since Sunday. Too many to be thanked individually. Na Piarsaigh serious champions. No doubt, they will be back again.
— Wayne Hutchinson (@WayneHutchinso1) November 20, 2018
Source: Wayne Hutchinson/Twitter
Hutchinson has always pursued the policy to keep going. Plenty seasons came and went with the sense lingering that it was going to be difficult for Ballygunner to keep rebounding. When they finally triumphed, Hutchinson was able to share it with another survivor whose service stretched back to 2005 in Shane O’Sullivan.
“Myself and Sully, we’re on the road a long time. A few of the boys would be giving me a bit of slagging to hang the boots up up but sure we’ll keep going for another while anyway.
“The dream of this day kept me going, just that want and determination to get this. Just every year going back in January, February forces the slog. It’s a slog for everyone but I suppose when you’re getting that bit older, it’s that bit harder. I reached a boyhood dream really in Semple Stadium.”
The outpouring of emotion was a common theme across the Ballygunner side. Goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe spoke about the indescribable feeling of getting to climb the steps of Ardán Ui Riain and lift the trophy as joint captain. Defender Philip Mahony termed without hesitation that the win was the best feeling of his life.
Hutchinson thought of all the hurdles they had surmounted. Retrieving a deficit against Cork’s Midleton before triumphing. The rescue operation by Philip Mahony to secure extra-time in the semi-final against Clare’s Ballyea. And standing tall against a Na Piarsaigh team who have enjoyed remarkable dominance in Munster in modern times.
“It’s great to beat that fantastic Na Piarsaigh team. They’re something else, they really are. We knew they’d push us to the limit. When you look back to the Ballyea game, I’ve to complement Philip. What courage it took to go up. I was saying to sit back and leave the forwards score but it took serious courage for him to go up that day against Ballyea and bang the goal that he did.
“Only for him we probably wouldn’t be here. He’s a serious character, a serious lad. It really is a pleasure to play alongside him, just like it is a pleasure to play alongside a lot of the lads, just a fantastic feeling.”
Hutchinson’s bond with his club was strengthened by time he spent away. Life and work took him to Dublin. In 2015 he decided to locate himself there as a hurler as well and joined St Judes. He proved a key component in a side that lost out in a Dublin county final against Cuala but felt the draw to return to Ballygunner thereafter.
Thank you @clgnaomhjude. Great club x
— Wayne Hutchinson (@WayneHutchinso1) November 18, 2018
Source: Wayne Hutchinson/Twitter
“When I was in Dublin I couldn’t really commit up and down the road because of the way I was working late hours and stuff so for that one year I went.
“I enjoyed my experience up there, learned a lot, met a lot of good friends up there, a fantastic club in St Judes.
“But I came back because there was unfinished business and thankfully again it was worth it. There’s probably nine or ten of us travelling down from Dublin so that makes it easier. The team are after achieving what we set out at the start of the year to achieve. We’re Munster champions and no one can ever take this away from us.”
In his blog four years ago where he emotively revealed his difficulties, Hutchinson honed in on a particular theme.
“I’m going to keep moving forward, and as part of that I’ve got to accept depression as my friend. I’ve just got to keep moving forward. And I believe I will.”
That attitude is one he still espouses. The glow of this victory will not dim for a while but an All-Ireland semi-final next spring against Ballyhale or Ballyboden will swing into view in time.
“An All-Ireland semi-final now to look forward to in February, we’ll probably take a couple of weeks off now, recharge the batteries, rest up the legs a bit. We’ll regroup in two or three weeks time and we’ll set out a plan.
“You can’t beat it. You don’t know if you’re ever going to be here again. You have to take these moments and treasure them and hold onto them because all the training and all the hard work is for days like today. It’s absolutely worth it.”
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