Stephen Bennett making hay while the sun shines
By John Harrington
Back in 2019, Steven Bennett told the then Waterford manager, Paraic Fanning, that he wouldn’t be available for selection because he was going travelling after completing his teaching degree.
Fast forward four years, and his brothers and fellow Waterford panelists, Shane and Kieran, have both recently jetted off to Australia but Steven himself never got around to it.
He still hasn’t written off the idea totally, but Waterford supporters will be glad to hear it’s not currently on his agenda.
Not only is he happy teaching in Ballyhooley in Cork, the fact that he’s belatedly making the most of his huge talent on the hurling pitch is also a very good reason to hang around.
Bennett was touted as a star in the making from a very young age, but for a long time it looked as though chronic issues he had with his hips that required two bouts of surgery would prevent him from ever fulfilling his potential.
“I think I went on it too young,” says, of his elevation to the Waterford senior panel while still a teenager.
“I was on it when I was 18. I scored my first championship goal after six years which is just absolutely crazy when you think about it.
“I actually said it to someone recently that I'm enjoying it so much now as I'm on about finishing. So it's sort of 'one more year, one more year, one more year'.
“I had the first hip operation at 17 back when we won the minor. Then did two years rehabbing it with the seniors. Then got operated on it again and came back and won the U-21. I didn't really make it, I was in and out of the senior team obviously since 18. But I was in for a game, off for a game, coming on, starting for two games then off again.
“In fairness, it was only in Pauric's year....2019 was the year I actually played a full match. I think there was one match I started and finished in the first five years. Then in in the last four years I've played every championship minute bar nine minutes or something.
"So, yeah, there probably is an element of I'm really enjoying it. I'm enjoying being on the team and I'm enjoying playing, I feel better and I'm moving a bit better. So it probably is a bit of, 'ah, I'll just hold on for another little while'. I'm still hoping to try to win something."
He still has to mind the hips. His exercise regime involves a lot of prehab and strengthening exercises designed to prevent them breaking down again.
“There’s loads in fairness and after hard trainings putting on the socks the next morning would be a bit sore,” he says.
“In fairness this year the physios are brilliant. They’re really trying to mind us. Instead of doing one thing and hurting yourself, do something else. So I actually am happy, I got all the preseason done this year. In the first few years I wouldn’t have been even doing the preseason.
“When I was younger walking up stairs was sore, never mind running around, so I actually wasn’t doing it. I think in my first year at 18 I trained like three times. I’ve never really torn muscles or any of that kind of stuff, thank God, I don’t be missing six weeks because of a little hamstring tear.
“I’m happy enough in fairness, I’ve a lot more to do obviously but I am really enjoying the hurling. Playing the matches is the big thing.”
He’s also enjoying the vibe in the Waterford camp since Davy Fitzgerald succeeded Liam Cahill as team manager.
The disappointment of last year’s championship campaign has faded, and there’s a fresh energy in the panel thanks in no small part of Fitzgerald’s man-management.
“In fairness, he's been good, he's really calm actually, completely different to what you'd think from seeing him on the tele,” says Bennett.
“He's really calm, giving us things to work on, really good to the players too and so we're really enjoying it. Obviously it's tough at times, but really enjoyable so far.
“He is massive on the team getting to know each other more. Do you know, you'd be playing together, but you mightn't know half the lads outside of the field, or things about them, so he genuinely is getting us a bit closer so it is really fun so far.”
Waterford were deemed the most likely challengers to Limerick in last year’s championship after winning the 2022 Allianz Hurling League in such style.
They subsequently looked a tired team in the Munster Championship, but if Fitzgerald can successfully charge their batteries then they have the quality to bounce back this year.
“I think so definitely,” says Bennett. “You win a match and you’re brilliant, you’ve seen that with us in the league, sure everyone told us we were the best thing in the world. Then you lose a match and you’re the worst players in Ireland.
“You can go from the second best team in Ireland to the eighth best team by losing one or two matches. Probably somewhere in the middle is the answer. I genuinely wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think we were good enough. I think that’s the case with a lot of the lads. Jamie Barron is there a while, Tadhg [de Burca] is after coming back from two cruciate [injuries].
“Fellas don’t do that unless they’re convinced we’re good enough. If you don’t think yourself that you’re going to win, you literally may as well give up. It’s just to get out of Munster is so crazy. I think it opens up from there and you see Clare now are performing so well, you’ve Tipp now with Liam [Cahill] gone back into them, I think they’ll get a kick out of him.
“It really is competitive. All we can do now is focus on the league. We’ve Dublin this weekend which should be a huge start. To beat Dublin is hopefully the first thing we can try to achieve and get some games into new lads.”