Former Waterford senior hurling manager, Paraic Fanning. Photo: Inpho.
Paraic Fanning bore the brunt of Waterford’s miserable Munster championship when he stepped aside last Friday after less than twelve months in charge.
The doom and gloom of those three heavy defeats to Tipperary, Limerick and Cork, by an aggregate of 51 points, never lifted. The 2-24 to 0-10 humiliation to Limerick at Walsh Park prompted sharp criticism of management and players both inside and outside the county. The manner of that defeat, in a game that Waterford simply had to win, was the point of no return for this arrangement.
‘NOT AN EASY DECISION’
Following a review of the 2019 season, that involved management, player reps and the county board, Fanning left with a heavy heart. “This has not been an easy decision and there are many challenges ahead. In reflecting on the disappointment of the championship of 2019 and looking at 2020 I do not find myself in a position to undertake these challenges for personal reasons. I wish all involved every success and I look forward to supporting all our teams for many years to come.”
In the immediate aftermath of the championship, the Mount Sion man was keen to carry on for 2020. “I have a fair idea of what we need to do,” he said in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh press room. He didn’t get the support required during that championship post-mortem however and walked away in the best interests of Waterford hurling.
“Paraic met with some of the players, he met with the county board and we met with the players,” chairman Paddy Joe Ryan explained. “Everybody was involved. There was certainly no acrimony on any side, I didn’t see it if there was. The players had different opinions but Paraic worked hard for the players. They went to Portugal for a training camp; he did everything he possibly could for the players.”
A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW
Like Ger Cunningham found out in Dublin, when he succeeded Anthony Daly, it’s difficult to replace a big personality whom the players loved. Derek McGrath was a hard act for Fanning to follow. “The Pope could have got the job and he wouldn’t compare to Derek,” wrote John Mullane in the Irish Independent before the Cork game this summer.
Despite relegation to Division 1B and a winless Munster campaign in 2018, McGrath departed on good terms. Some players pleaded with him to stay on in the lead-up to the last round against Cork.
The search for his successor was a drawn-out process as Pat Ryan and Mattie Kenny dropped out of the race. It took three months for the four-man committee to find a replacement. Fanning jumped at the opportunity to manage his county and tried to make the transition as smooth as possible. In his first meeting with the players, he said he wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel and sought to maintain the high-performance environment developed by his predecessor. He kept some members of McGrath’s backroom team and only lost Ian O’Regan, Barry Coughlan, Jake Dillon and Tom Devine on the playing side. In his first foray into inter county management, he could have done with more experience along the sideline to support himself, Pa Kearney and James Murray.
NHL FINAL RUN
Nevertheless, the takeover looked seamless when the competitive action began at the end of January. Waterford needed to start winning again and games against Offaly, Laois and Carlow in Division 1B gave them the chance to do just that. They racked up 9-65, introduced a short passing game, to compensate for the lack of size in the team, and kept three up front.
They enjoyed a second half blitz in the quarter final against Clare but those two come from behind wins against Galway were most encouraging. Waterford fought on their backs on both occasions, as they had done under the previous manager, to make the league final. Limerick’s eight-point win in Croke Park flattered the Déise as the Shannonsiders created 46 scoring chances.
Throughout the winter and spring, Fanning was firm in his belief that Walsh Park should stage Munster championship hurling and his wish was granted. Waterford weren’t at the right pitch for the long-awaited visit of Clare however. The ball didn’t stick up front. A late late show, where they scored five of the last six points, almost salvaged a draw. A couple of tactical tweaks may have tipped the scales the other way. Conor Gleeson on Tony Kelly from the start. Pauric Mahony on the frees. Keeping Jamie Barron on the field. Introducing Maurice Shanahan sooner than the 65th minute.
Cracks appeared on the field away to Tipperary. Even before Conor Gleeson’s dismissal, players looked towards the sideline instead of applying pressure on the Premier men. They rallied to within three but the fourteen men lost the last 22 minutes 2-10 to 0-1. The fight went out of the team against Limerick. “While the championship was very disappointing it does not reflect the time and effort put in by all concerned,” Fanning maintained on Friday night.
The search for a new manager will start this week. The county executive will sit down to begin the process and could call a special board meeting later this month to discuss the matter. The players will have an input in the appointment.
The next move will be watched closely by players, sponsors and supporters. It’s one that Waterford have to get right.