GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Ex-Brighton player Dessie Hutchinson chasing hurling dream with Ballygunner
Last Updated: 31/10/19 12:00pm
Professional sport and the bright lights of the Premier League is not for everyone. For many, the dream is a simpler one - playing and winning alongside your family and friends.
Dessie Hutchinson elected to move home, after spending a number of years in Brighton & Hove Albion FC's youth structures. Despite offers from other clubs in England, he returned to the Deise County to play with Waterford FC before eventually calling time on his soccer career, aged just 22.
Having played underage hurling with Ballygunner, he joined the club's senior side and this year helped them to their sixth consecutive county title.
"[Hurling] is my first love, and I'm delighted to be back playing," he explained.
"If you walked into the house at home, you'd know straight away it's a GAA house. There's not much about soccer at home. It's great to be back.
"You are training with your best friends. Sometimes you're playing soccer over in the UK, and you're constantly competing against the guy next to you. You're hoping he has a bad game so you might get looked at by the first-team manager. But when it comes to GAA, hurling and football, there's none of that. When you're playing well, you're good enough, you want everyone doing the exact same around you to be successful."
In truth, it was an easy decision to return home.
"I just came home there about 14 months ago," he continued. "I played a bit of ball (soccer) here with Waterford FC, and then decided it really wasn't for me anymore.
"Just the way things were going with it, and looking at the bigger picture down the line, career-wise and stuff. I came back over 14 months ago and ever since I've been happy."
Despite being across the water, his mind was never far from home and he kept a close eye on Ballygunner's fortunes.
"Ever since I went over, I've always kept an eye on stuff," he noted. "Especially this time of year, Ballygunner are always there, or thereabouts. It's hard to take your mind off it. You're always thinking I'd like to be playing there.
"Probably the first year or two, I was trying not to think about it as much as I was, but eventually as the years went on I was, and about wanting to play again.
"They've done six in a row county championships. You're looking at all of them. Then last year, in Thurles, the celebrations after being beaten in two [Munster] finals before it by Na Piarsaigh. I just looked at my own brothers there, how happy they are. Of course, it is bittersweet but at the same time you're just delighted for them lads."
While he was absent for the good days, he also was not there for the bad ones, and watching from afar he pondered if he could make a difference.
"You're always wanting to make an impact, and thinking about how you could make an impact," he explained.
"You see the disappointment of losing to Ballyhale [in last year's All-Ireland semi-final], and thinking 'we'd love to go one step further this year'. It is that wanting, I could do something different to what someone else is doing different out there.
"I'm delighted to be back, and hopefully I can add that going into the rest of the championship."
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So what can he add? After so long away from the small ball, how difficult has it been to re-adapt?
"I was lucky I came into Ballygunner at a good time, I came into it just after the Munster final last year. So I was right up to the pace of it in a few months. Then there was a quick turnaround into Waterford Championship after the Ballyhale game. I was lucky I was straight into it. I've had eight games now where I got through.
"Thankfully I've that natural gift in my wrists or whatever. The fitness [from soccer] did stand to me too. You're training with some of the top hurlers in the country. For me, I always tried to pair myself with them lads, the likes of Pauric Mahony, Philip Mahony, these lads to eventually bring me on in my game."
It's been quite the impressive rise, and he'll be hoping to bring the Deise club to loftier heights again as they embark on their Munster Championship defence against Sixmilebridge on Sunday. But he knows they won't get anything easy in Clare.
"It's probably going to be the toughest game Ballygunner have had in the Munster Championship in the last few years," he said. "We're going down to Sixmile's back yard. You have that Clare crowd, that are always loud. We are looking forward to it but we know it's going to be a tough task.
"We were lucky enough in the last few years that we've had a number of home games. We haven't been away from Walsh Park in a while, but we're really looking forward to going down there and showing what we can do."
And so with his soccer career firmly in the rear-view mirror, it's full steam ahead in the club championship. But whatever happens between now and the AIB Club final in January, Hutchinson knows there's a long road ahead in his hurling career:
"It's been a dream since I was a little lad to represent Waterford. But at the moment, we're just fully concentrating on Ballygunner and we'll see what comes down the line after that, but of course it would be."
New Waterford manager Liam Cahill could well be an interested spectator on Sunday afternoon.