Dessie Hutchinson’s journey from Brighton to the brink of hurling immortality with Waterford – Independent.ie

Posted: November 29, 2020 at 6:09 am

In some ways, the arrival of Dessie Hutchinson back into an already stacked Ballygunner squad was the last thing the Waterford championship needed.

n contradiction, his decision to ditch soccer for a career with the Dise has looked to be just the tonic for the county team.

Prior to 2020, Waterford had taken just a draw from their previous eight championships, a run of results that took its toll on morale in the county.

But Liam Cahill has rejuvenated the squad, with the introduction of former Brighton man Hutchinson helping to revive the county's fortunes.

Already, Waterford have seen off Cork and Clare and went stride for stride for long periods with All-Ireland favourites Limerick.

Tomorrow night, they face Kilkenny in Croke Park for a place in the All-Ireland final. It will be another step in the development of Cahill's team, and another step forward for Hutchinson's fledgling inter-county hurling career.

Of course, Hutchinson might have been lost to the GAA forever. With his contract expiring in Brighton, he looked to be heading in the right direction. He captained the club's U-23s and made his first-team debut in the League Cup.

Business

Hutchinson was set to move to St Mirren on loan in January 2018 to gain first-team experience but then the business end of soccer took over.

The deal fell through around the paying of his wages. An untimely injury followed and suddenly his time was done. It was cruel and swift but just the nature of the beast.

At home he played briefly with Waterford FC, but seeing his brothers JJ and Wayne collect county titles with Ballygunner had its charms.

In truth, the club had never been far from his thoughts. While in England, he'd often puck around with the likes of Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby.

The pull of home and people and place never left him. So when he came he played football with Gaultier and joined up Ballygunner training after they had won five in a row in Waterford. It was a major boost to Ballygunner, already the pre-eminent side in the county, but also a blow to the chasing pack.

Earlier this year, they made it seven on the bounce, winning those finals by an average of more than 11 points.

And not too many are betting against them to equal, or even surpass, the county record of nine consecutive crowns.

And if Hutchinson has now found his feet at inter-county hurling, it was football manager Benji Whelan who handed him his first Waterford senior jersey in early 2019.

"We became aware of him for two reasons," Whelan remembers. "One was he was playing football with Gaultier and they were starting back. And also his brother JJ was playing with us at that point.

"So we bounced it off JJ when we heard he was back around and he said, 'Yeah, he's a nice footballer' so we asked him in and he came.

"We had probably a couple of games under our belt in the league. So he came on in a couple of games and as you know, its going to take time to get your footing. But he started championship for us that year.

Talented

"He's very talented. There's no two ways about it. The whole soccer side of things would have given him the left foot and the right foot and he can pick a pass with either foot from any distance. We kept him closer to goal because he was very accurate and we didn't see the best of him because he just needed more time."

Whelan studied exercise physiology in Trinity and noted Hutchinson's pace and agility.

"He trades on mobility. His agility is probably in the higher level, close to elite. He can accelerate and decelerate really, really quickly and he can turn off left or right very sharply.

"And he's also very clever, the way he plays he can create space for himself. So in football he was a natural inside forward."

Despite missing so many formative years, Whelan isn't surprised he has stepped up to county hurling so quickly.

"The thing about Dessie is that he was an accomplished hurler before he left for the UK . . . but for the fact that Ballygunner had so many players of a high calibre, Dessie would have been a big loss.

"Like Dessie would have been a huge loss to any other club in Waterford I would say. But he was always known as an accomplished hurler in Waterford. And all of those guys, who can perform to a high level, tend to have natural talent with co-ordination, balance, movement skills."

Our statistics, collated by analyst Diarmuid Whelan in conjunction with DeelySportScience.com, show the impact he has made in the championship so far.

Hutchinson has taken 12 shots in his three championship matches so far, delivering 2-6 and four wides.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his relative inexperience at this level, his best performance came in the most recent game against Clare, where he hit 2-2.

Both our touch and shot maps show that Cahill wants the Ballygunner man close to goal, as he gets on the ball and shoots from on or inside the 45-metre line a large majority of the time.

And that's likely where he'll be stationed against the Cats tomorrow.

Team-mate Stephen Bennett has been impressed with Hutchinson so far and insists he'll get even better.

"In fairness to him, he is brilliant, he trains very hard. He is obviously very skilful, but it's his movement.

"I suppose the four years over training professionally definitely helped him. I just think his first five steps are just brilliant. You'd love to take it off him. He's really good.

"He'll always give the option. We need to get better at actually using him, and all our other forwards."

From Ballygunner to Brighton and back again, Waterford can be thankful that Hutchinson is here to stay. And he'll only get better.

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Dessie Hutchinson's journey from Brighton to the brink of hurling immortality with Waterford - Independent.ie

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