Thirteen years since almost going to the wall, Waterford Hockey Club is looking to complete a remarkable comeback and win their first national title since 1922.
Indeed, in 2006, the club’s first team dropped off the face of Munster Division One, scarcely able to scrape together enough bodies for a time.
But, off the back of Stuie Greene’s trojan work in the past six years, along with the decision of South Africans Brad Rouhana and Rory Isaacs to land in the town, the club’s fortunes have transformed.
— WaterfordHC (@WaterfordHC) February 24, 2019
Back then, they started entering the Division 3 and 4 competitions once again, winning a league and McClean Cup, rising to get promotion last summer to the top tier in the southern province.
Their first season back in the top tier for 12 years has seen them already assured of a top-three finish in Munster while they line out at 2.45pm on Sunday against NICS in the Irish Hockey Trophy final.
It will be their first national final since the 1976 Irish Senior Cup decider while their last victory in All-Ireland competition was the Irish Junior Cup 97 years ago.
Greene has since taken a sabbatical to Australia with one of his chief aides David Quinn helping to carry on the growth, bringing a wealth of top-line experience from his time with UCD and Pembroke.
He was part of the 2006 vintage when the side was last competitive but a large tranche all left at once, mostly for college in Cork and Dublin, sending the club reeling.
“The trouble is we don’t have third level here in Waterford,” Quinn said. “So everyone moved away for college [all at once]. The club never really invested in its youth section before that and when that group of lads got to a certain age, it started to fold. I cannot emphasise how much work Stuie Greene has put into this to get it back up and running.”
It was clear the work had to be done from the ground up with Greene’s appointment as a teacher at Newtown School a key one. He coached them to a first boys All-Ireland Schools title in October and the link between the club and school has married well.
That two-pronged environment offered more pitch-time outlets to play and has helped foster the development, among others, of the prodigiously talented Ben Johnson and Harry McCarthy who both played for the Irish Under-21s in midweek. Ethan McInerney, Ian Balding and Isaac Johnson lined out at Munster Under-18 level.
In total, eight schoolboys form part of their senior squad. Quinn anticipates those talents are could well opt for national league clubs once they finish school but systems are already in place to make sure this is not a short-term thing, learning the lessons of the past.
“For the likes of Ben and Harry, for their own careers, I don’t want to see them stifled or held back. What they do need is an EYHL Division One side to develop them and grow as top class players.
“There is more talent there to back it up. We have this exceptional group but at Under-16s, there is Ian Balding and Rory Treacy on the Irish underage panels.
“Numbers are there in the youth section, especially since we started satellite academies in places like Tramore and Stradbally that feed into the club a good standard and technical ability.
“In time we hope to expand to other villages and towns like Piltown. There’s a lot of planning and energy going into it.”
Those groups teach the basics on 3G astros and five-a-side football pitches, avoiding the need for full-size pitches for Under-8s and 10s to get started in the sport.
“It’s an initiative set up by Waterford Hockey Club but they could in time evolve into clubs in their own right and hopefully that would be the case with more rural connections with schools as well.”
Stradbally currently has ties with Kilmacthomas where school hockey is already in place while Quinn believes Tramore has a big enough population to sustain a club in its own right in time.
As for the here and now, Quinn feels his side can put it up to NICS in their Trophy final and bring back silverware to the Deise county.
All the best to our Mens 1st team v @nicshockeyclub in the Irish Hockey Trophy Final. A massive day for the club. These days don't come around to often so we are going to enjoy everything that comes with it. May the best team win 👍 @Munster_Hockey @hookhockey @SFHockeyAcademy
— WaterfordHC (@WaterfordHC) April 13, 2019
“NICS will be strong and well-drilled like most Ulster sides but to see the quality and standard we have now is so pleasing from where we were. We more than competed with a mid-table Leinster Division One side like Rathgar in the semi-final.
“That’s the level we set ourselves as a benchmark and we can take that into this final.”
It is one of three finals on the day at Grange Road. Three Rock Rovers face Instonians in what is the Dublin side’s third final in the last five years at 4pm, hoping to finally end their long wait for a title they last won in 1998. Inst’s wait is even longer, going all the way back to 1980.
Railway Union meet UCD in a repeat of the 2018 final with the Park Avenue side going for three in-a-row in the women’s Irish Junior Cup.
Sunday 14th April 2019
Irish Junior Cup Final: Three Rock Rovers II v Instonians II, Grange Road, 4pm
Irish Hockey Trophy Final: NICS v Waterford, 3pm, Grange Road, 3pm
Irish Junior Cup Final: UCD II v Railway Union II, 2pm