“It was as if he was never gone, having not hurled for six years.”
After completing his Junior Cert in 2013, Dessie Hutchinson signed for Brighton and Hove Albion. Now 24, after less than two years back playing hurling, he will line out at corner forward for Waterford in the All Ireland Hurling Final on Sunday.
Dessie fulfilled the dream of many young Irish sportspeople by going across the water to a Premier League club. However, on Sunday, he will get to fulfil a personal dream that never went away.
Hutchinson’s return to hurling.
In 2018, Ballygunner were finally Munster Senior Club Hurling Champions again after 17 years. They defeated Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh in the final in what was their fifth appearance in the final since their last victory.
Dessie’s older brothers Wayne and JJ both played for Ballygunner that day, and Dessie was in attendance. He had only just left Brighton and was in the offseason after finishing the campaign with Waterford FC in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
“He was at the Munster Club Final,” Wayne says.
“We have a photo at home and me and JJ are there in the photo and Dessie is there in his clothes, he would have been 22 that December.
“He came into the Ballygunner set up after the Munster Club Final, and he started training with us. It was as if he was never gone, having not hurled for six years.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) December 13, 2020
“The last hurling game he would have played, I think he actually played an under-16 county final with Ballygunner, and I remember before he left for Brighton.
“Billy O’Sullivan, who would have brought Dessie up through the ranks with Ballygunner, brought over a photograph of, I think it was an under-14 county winning team that he played on.”
“When he was in Brighton, he brought the hurls with him.”
Dessie never lost his love for the hurling. At Brighton, he became friends with current Republic of Ireland internationals Jayson Molumby, also from Waterford, and Aaron Connolly from Galway, who was also from a GAA background.
“I always had it (the hurl) with me (in Brighton), and any time I came home it was the first thing I’d go to,” Dessie told The Irish Mirror last year. “All the time over there we’d have a tap around now and again.
“There was always something in the back of my mind saying, ‘Jesus I wish I was there’.”
In his first full year back in hurling, he won the man of the match award in the county final after scoring 1-3. It was Ballygunner’s sixth successive Waterford hurling title, but it was Dessie’s first and won with his brothers.
“Obviously a lot of lads in Ballygunner have had this experience a number of times down through the years,” Hutchinson told The Irish Times.
“For me, it was my first. To be able to get over the line, win with your best friends and your brothers and your family, and the whole community was unreal. Probably the best moment of my career, to be honest.”
To be “out of the game six years” and be playing at the highest level is not normal. But, as quick as his rise has been, it wasn’t immediate. In Waterford’s 2020 league campaign he managed only two points, one against Tipperary and one against Westmeath.
“Every day he goes out, he’s getting better.”
Dessie’s club manager Darragh O’Sullivan is not surprised at all by his rapid ascension and says “every day he goes out, he’s getting better.”
“I still don’t see a ceiling with him,” O’Sullivan said.
“What people wouldn’t see is how hard Dessie works. He puts huge time into his game.
“We’d see that at training, but if you watch him in a game, you’ll see that work ethic as well. The amount of work he’s doing off the ball is phenomenal.
“That’s the basis for everything in every sport, a good work ethic and he certainly has it. I think that’s a huge reason he’s getting the rewards he’s getting now.”
Being away from home and hurling for so long clearly has its disadvantages, but many will feel his time in Brighton also had its benefits.
How Hutchinson benefitted from his time in professional soccer.
“He trained as a professional athlete for six years,” Dessie’s brother Wayne says.
“So, there are advantages there that he can take from that over into an amateur game, like his physique and his footwork, his pace and everything else. He might be ahead of other lads over here who wouldn’t have got that developmental work that he would have gotten in the UK by training every day.”
Dessie clearly has a talent for many sports, and in 2019 he spent time with the Waterford Gaelic footballers. But what Dessie really wanted, was to play with the Waterford hurlers, this was where he truly wanted to be.
“He’s probably a better footballer.”
“Growing up he would have been decent enough at most sports, I think he’s probably a better footballer.
“He’s playing off eight in the golf, which is a decent enough standard, but he probably wants to improve that.
“The hurling is the big one now. Hopefully, he’ll have a good maybe seven to ten years playing at a high level with Waterford and achieving success.”
Wayne, an accomplished hurler in his own right, will not allow Dessie to get ahead of himself.
“Dessie has a lot of work to do as well, he’s not the finished article, by no means. I often say to him, the day you think you’re the finished article is the day that you’re done.
“When you’re playing at this level, every player is looking to improve every day, and if you’re not looking to improve as an intercounty player, and even as a club player, you’re done.”
“I think the soccer experience is definitely helping.”
Wayne believes that his brother Dessie’s experience of playing professional soccer has benefitted him and helped develop skills he now deploys on the hurling field.
Dessie’s experience also debunks the notion that young people should specialise in one sport from an early age.
“Sometimes when I’m looking at him, I can see he’s making various runs and not the whole time getting the ball,” Wayne says.
“You have to be very patient in there and I think the soccer experience is definitely helping in that regard.
“When he played soccer, he used to play in the holding role position, he knew when to move for a pass, he knew when to spin away.
“He has that spatial awareness. And I think that spatial awareness possibly could serve him better out the pitch rather than inside. If I had a player like him, I’d be getting him on as much ball as possible, because he has the stickwork and he has the pace.”
Not many win an All-Ireland in their first year, even fewer could do it after spending six years away from the sport. Dessie Hutchinson has that opportunity this Sunday.