Dan Will Always Be “The Man”
On the June 17 last, Dan Shanahan’s household wasn’t the place to be. Arguably one of Waterford’s greatest hurlers, Shanahan watched the county team make it to another Munster hurling final. The crucial difference for him this time is that he wasn’t there, having retired from the inter-county game two years before. For him, the sense of isolation was palpable; heightened by the fact that he still feels he has a lot to offer.
Shanahan, as he says himself, has been lucky not to have suffered serious injury in his 14-year spell with Waterford’s hurlers. However, now that he is no longer involved at the very top level, he admits to missing the game terribly, despite the fact that he is still going strong at club level with Lismore.
“With all due respect to club hurlers, it’s just not the same as inter-county level – county hurling is where it’s at,” he says. “I miss the professionalism as well as the craic and camaraderie with the lads – I find it hard these days to sit down and watch a game knowing that I haven’t got that in my life anymore.”
2007’s hurler of the year enjoyed a memorable career – he knows that he’s been luckier than most but even that won’t help when the ball is thrown in at this year’s Munster decider with Tipperary. At one stage, between 2004 and 2007, his name was known in homes throughout the country; now he wonders if anyone remembers who he was. “’Dan who?’,” he says. “The fact of the matter is that once you’re finished at inter-county level, you’re finished, that’s it – there’s no talk about you after that. The focus, rightly or wrongly, is on the current crop of lads playing for the county. But I think others in my situation – players who have given such a lot of their life to playing at the highest level – should get something; even tickets to the games, but we don’t. The minute it’s over, it’s over – that’s just the way it is.”
To be almost cast aside is hard to swallow, especially for a player of Shanahan’s calibre. His contribution to the Waterford team – most notably his goal that helped beat Cork in a pulsating Munster final in 2004 and his hattrick against Clare in the same campaign – is fondly remembered by the natives of the county and beyond, but he knows himself that what’s past is past; there’s no room for sentiment today.
However, despite a sense of isolation that he admits to feeling these days, he acknowledges those who have made it back from career-threatening injuries and knows that he has a lot to be thankful for, regardless of how he feels when today’s Waterford side run out. “One thing I noticed with lads that were out with long-term injuries is that they tended to come back better players. When something happens that you know is going to put you out of the game for a while it’s important to prepare mentally as well as physically because usually, it’s a long road back,” he says. “That’s why I have huge admiration for the likes of Henry Shefflin – he had two serious cruciate ligament injuries but yet he came back better and stronger both times. To me, he’s a shining example of can be achieved through sheer hard work, effort and determination.”
Cruciate injuries aside, Shanahan finds it hard to recall anyone he came across in the game that suffered life-changing injuries whilst playing. “I guess I’m lucky,” he says. However, he says that the work of the World Sports Team and its cause of supporting those less fortunate than himself, is admirable. “I think we need an organisation like the World Sports Team,” he notes. “When you can’t compete because of injury and when a life changes because of sport, very often those unfortunate enough to be in that situation get left behind; they can be forgotten. Hopefully, an organisation like this can change all of that and that’s why I’m a member.”
Shanahan will watch Waterford’s progress through the championship from the sidelines from now on but his contribution to the inter-county team, and indeed to hurling itself, won’t be forgotten for those he inspired most, despite what he thinks himself.