Four years after his last senior game for Ballygunner, the buzz of a Munster final week never fails to stir Wayne Hutchinson.
“We are the kingpins in Waterford and taking a bit of a hold in Munster, which is remarkable” he enthuses. “To be the first to win three in a row would be one of the greatest achievements in the GAA.”
This past Wednesday he had more reason for cheer. It was announced Dojo, the payment platform for whom he is regional commercial manager, received its Irish e-money licence. Hutchinson will head up its launch, which includes the wireless handheld card machine that has proven a success story in the UK.
“If you said to me three years ago that I’d be leading this product in Ireland, people would have laughed. I would have laughed myself but it just shows you that what can happen if you get the drop of a ball and you take it.
“I was involved with guys who were absolute winners with high performance mindsets. That builds good habits within yourself to go out and try and achieve something after hurling.”
Ballygunner’s holistic approach to mentoring and making their hurlers “rounded people” has benefitted Hutchinson. One need only look at how his old team-mates Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan and the Mahonys, Philip and Pauric, called time relatively early on their Waterford careers to realise they could see the wood from the trees.
Hutchinson also values how the Gaelic Players Association helped him understand there was life outside the game. “I see with a lot of lads, the inter-county game is just all or nothing. It’s nine or 10 years of your life, you commit everything to it and walk away in your early 30s.
“If you’re a smart enough guy, you have everything boxed off in the background but if you don’t have the education or the growth mindset to develop as a person they mightn’t be in a good position financially or have enough money to afford a mortgage.
“Players suffer in all sports after they finish up and the way it’s gone hurling has become professional. Players find themselves needing a new identity, needing something else.
“For me, I didn’t miss the game but I missed the dressing room. I was hurling from eight years of age and finished at 36, 37. It’s been your life and finding something new is not easy.”
Nine years ago, Hutchinson spoke publicly about his mental health difficulties. Clinically diagnosed with depression at the age of 18, his darkest days came at a time when he was playing for Waterford and his relationship with hurling was obsessional.
“What happened in my teenage years up to young adulthood was a force behind what I’ve achieved. Everything was wrapped around hurling. Everything. Nothing else mattered but I went back to college at 23 and that’s where my own personal therapy started in terms of getting over the shit that I went through.
“I had a bit of support but I had the awareness to stop and think, ‘I have to do something with my life because hurling isn’t going to be here forever’. I was content that I would finish up some day because I had prepared for what was going to happen next. Like, when the lads won the All-Ireland last year, there wasn’t anything in me saying, ‘Jesus, why didn’t I hang on?’ It was just my time to finish up.”
Married to Miriam and father of three-year-old twins Fia and Ella, Hutchinson moved back to Ballygunner from Dublin six months ago. Home is a minute’s drive from the club’s McGinn Park where he is coaching the U20s with an eastern Waterford final to look forward to next week.
He is just one of the club’s many former and current players paying it back from the sideline. “We are in the midst of something special at the moment but all good things come to an end. We need to prepare our young lads to slip into a senior team sooner rather than later.”
As one of those Ballygunner players who knew more heartache than happiness in Munster finals losing four before victory came in 2018, it’s understandable that Hutchinson walks easy with the full jug. So long as hurlers like Patrick Fitzgerald come through, Ballygunner will be in good stead and there can be no denying the return of Hutchinson’s brother Dessie five years ago from his professional soccer career with Brighton was a godsend for the club.
Not that Wayne was initially pleased to see his sibling come home so soon. “I won’t lie, when I was his age when he came back, I would often look at Premier League footballers and think how great it must be so in a way I was disappointed he walked away from it.
“But as his brother, I fully supported his decision. He was up training with us in the lead-up to the 2018 Munster final and then brought into the squad for the semi-final against Ballyhale. What I couldn’t get over at the time was his ability to just pick up where he left off, as if he was never gone. Hurling is the type of game you need to have the hurley in the hand four or five nights a week all year round. Fair enough, he was doing a bit of pucking over in Brighton but not to the same level as the club.
“I’d say he felt comfortable being back so that would have made things easier. His level of professionalism he brought with him. Lads would be turning up and doing their activation work but Dessie would be that bit more focused and getting in extra stretches and shooting after training.
“It was a big step coming back but he’s six months away now from being a qualified secondary school teacher. I’d have been onto him about getting things right for when he finishes hurling. I mightn’t have as much hurling as him but I could offer him my experience.”