Barry Watters. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
They say the ‘third time’s a charm’. If so, Barry Watters will write himself into the annals of Dundalk Gaels history this weekend by scoring the match-winning point for the third championship match running.
Watters is not someone who appears easily fazed. His point in the replay victory over the Sean O’Mahony’s epitomised as much. With the weight of expectation on his shoulders, he nonchalantly stroked over the winner. While, in the semi-final, he installed the Gaels with a six-point lead prior to Naomh Máirtín pegging 1-2 back in added time.
Perhaps teams have tended to neglect him at crucial stages, thus allowing him to pick up the pockets of space which have ultimately afforded him the opportunities at local stardom. However, Derek Crilly was someone who had done his research on Watters prior to coaxing him into joining the club.
“I came out of DCU qualified as a sports scientist in 2011 and in 2013 I started working with Statsports so I’ve been up here five-years,” he told the Dundalk Democrat.
“I was based out of DkIT at the start so with Derek Crilly being based out of there as well and David Moley, who formally played with Dundalk Gaels, is also a colleague of mine, between the two of them boys, I was roped into playing here,” he chuckled.
In all seriousness, though, Watters is a player with pedigree. From making a 24-man Irish U17 squad for a Compromise Rules series in Australia aged 16 and playing alongside Michael Murphy, amongst others, to making the grade with the Cavan seniors in his first year out of minor. Watters was precociously talented from a young age.
However, injury struck him down. It stunted his progress. On reflection, he acknowledges he played too much football at one time.
“I had a lot of groin injuries from an early age. At the beginning of my time in DCU, I was playing a lot of football,” he said.
“I had just come out of minor and straight into the Cavan team. In hindsight, I probably should have taken a bit more time with the amount of football I was playing. I think at one stage I was playing for seven teams.
“I’d been diagnosed with Gilmore’s groin and I was in such pain that I went to see Enda King, a Cavan man who works in the sports surgery clinic. Enda’s a groin specialist and he sorted me out so I was just coming back right when I did my cruciate, that was two-years ago now.
“It was another setback, but the injury is a lot more common in the GAA now so I was able to get back from that within seven months.”
But football had mentally and physically taken its toll. He took last year out from playing altogether before signing his transfer into the Gaels. Prior to this, Watters would travel from his home in Lis na Dara to train with his home club Drung.
He had some very happy times with his native club. He spoke about winning the 2008 Cavan Junior Championship in glowing terms, while maintaining how the essence of the GAA dictates that you play for your home club.
His routine still involves regular commutes home, usually on non-training nights to visit his family and partner – a Primary School teacher who remains based in Cavan. But he feels vindicated in moving to the Gaels.
“The reason I took the year out from football was because I wasn’t feeling the love for the game that I felt when I was a bit younger, I needed a bit of a break from it and with work commitments as well, I was travelling a little bit so it all came together.
“But I’ve really enjoyed coming back this year and joining the Gaels, I don’t feel like an outsider,” he said.
That he is, though, in the sense that he’s achieved unique feats. Representing Ireland a year out of his age is something to be proud of, even if he modestly plays it down.
“That was a long time ago,” he quipped.
“I think it was 2007 when I travelled to Australia, it was at the beginning of all the International Rules stuff (i.e. the trouble which led to the series’ postponement for a period).
“I played with the Ulster U16 and U17 development squads and then the International Rules thing came around. There were trials in each province so there were 15 players from each province that would go forward to the final trials which were actually at DCU too. Niall Moyna was the manager.
“So, we had trials there again and I was lucky enough to make the 24 that travelled to Australia for a three-test series. That was a brilliant experience and I loved every minute of it. The experience in Australia was amazing.
“The first two tests were draw games and they won the last by 14. To get the chance at such a young age to play at the Telstra Dome stadium in Melbourne (now known as the Etihad Stadium) before one of the AFL games and then we played in the Port Adelaide Stadium for one of the games, it was a great experience for us as young guys.
“There was quite a lot of interaction between us and them. They were the same age as us and talking about signing contracts and getting drafted in the picks so it was a bit of a culture shock and when we told them that we don’t get anything at all they were amazed. ‘Why would you do this and not have a goal to get paid at the end of it’. Their reaction was interesting,” he laughed.
Some of the best players of the modern era went on that trip. Michael Murphy, Paddy Andrews, Kevin Nolan and Shane O’Rourke accompanied Watters, while he was “in good company" with two fellow Cavan men, “Ray Cullivan and Paddy Brady from Mullahoran.”
“A few of the guys have went on to win All-Irelands (he laughs) and fair play to them. They have put in the hard graft and work, unfortunately I can’t say the same. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though, I just didn’t get to that level.
“I captained the Cavan U16’s that year as well to the Gerry Reilly and Fr. Manning Cups. I would have one more year with the International Rules team only for there were incidents which happened in Salthill where there was a lot of fighting in the senior International Rules so they called it off for a year.”
Having recovered from his groin injury, Watters featured as Cavan reached the first of their five Ulster U21 finals in a row in 2010, while, as a minor, he soldiered alongside established Cavan seniors Cian Mackey and Ronan Flanagan.
He “did a bit of travelling” in between picking up the two serious injuries. However, football, and success, was always on his mind. He may have won underage competitions and represented Ireland, but to say that Watters is happy with his medal haul would be an overstatement. He craves achievement.
“If you asked me personally would I be happy with everything I’ve achieved, I’d say ‘probably not’. I’m delighted to have represented Ireland, apart from that I don’t have too many medals to show.”
He hopes to have a Cavan convoy present on Sunday in support. Perhaps they will come in expectation of him scoring the decisive score once more.
But Watters sees the overall picture. It’s about getting the Gaels across the line and, as if reading from a Gospel episode, ending their 65-year longing for Joe Ward.
“I would love if I could repeat the trick one more time. I don’t care how we get it done. If we won by a point or how many points, it doesn’t matter, all that matters now is that is winning. It’s great getting here and it’s obviously bit for the community around here, but if we don’t win it, none of it will be remembered.
“We want to be remembered as first Gaels team to win the championship in a very long time. We want to get Joe Ward back here,” he said.