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'I'd love to have another cut at it' - hurling ambitions, Laois role and Waterford change

No longer a senior hurling manager but Derek McGrath remains centrally involved in the sport.

Derek McGrath in Waterford Castle this week.
Derek McGrath in Waterford Castle this week.
Image: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

SAME COLOURS, DIFFERENT county and a lower level.

Derek McGrath’s hurling career has for so long been wrapped up in the blue and white of Waterford, departing as senior supremo in the summer of 2018 from a position that he had been indelibly linked to.

These days he is involved in Leinster, twice a week guiding the fortunes of the next generation of Laois hurlers. Minor championship assignments are approaching.

“It actually came about through Fergal Hartley who is friends with a guy who is involved with the Laois minors. Fergal was obviously with us in 2017. I was hang on I’m doing a course in the whole area of psychology before Christmas and I needed a kind of a placement if you like.

“I’m doing a small bit of coaching not a huge amount but I’m liking coming down the road after doing the session. I’m liking the, not less pressurised environment, but an environment where you are dealing with young fellas who are mad to learn and and I’m learning a huge amount myself.

“There’s a full management team in place Liam Dunne from Clough Ballacolla and Johny Fitz who used to play with Laois and Tim Lyons and Ollie Quinlan so there is a team that has been there since Tony Forristal since U14 and I’m just up giving a hand. And look we are part of the chasing pack behind Dublin Kilkenny and Wexford so it in interesting.

“Faythe Harriers have a management team in place, Sack Walsh is the coach, I’ve been up there twice. It’s more an ancillary role more than anything else but I’m doing the 6s 7s and 8s in my own club and up with the Laois minors twice and I ahve been in Wexford twice in eight weeks but not hugely involved. I’m out still four nights a week with the hurling but it’s not as pressurised, it’s nice.”

Stepping back from the relentless demands of the senior spotlight has done him no harm. Consider the outline of his management career and it feels like change was a necessary step.

“I played two championship matches with Waterford ’96 and ’98, I was gone off the panel in ’99. I was straight into coaching, I coached De La Salle in ’99, we won the Féile, Kevin Moran’s team, and I started teaching in ’99, I went straight into the Munster Colleges. I was still playing senior with De La Salle right up to I suppose 20 years after that. I went straight into coaching school teams, White Cup, Dean Ryan.

“I would have just been on the road with the Harty in ’07 and ’08, finished with De La Salle in 2011 playing, managing ’12 and ’13, I went straight into managing Waterford in ’14, so it’s after being kind of constant. Sometimes I think the managing is more time consuming and more mentally draining. A year or two tipping away at a few things is nice.”

Look around the Munster hurling scene and Liam Sheedy is in the midst of his second year of his second coming with Tipperary. Kieran Kingston is back for another go with Cork. McGrath is not resistant to the prospect of a return to the hotseat at some juncture himself.

“I’d love to have another cut at it yeah. My young lad is in second year, I’d like to get my own just maybe get him through Junior Cert into Transition Year maybe and then that kind of craic. That’s a family plan as opposed to a sporting plan. If something came up in the meantime, you’d consider it, you’d look at it but yeah I don’t see myself being out of it for the next 10 years if you like. I certainly see myself being involved over the next few years in some capacity.”

The Waterford playing setup has changed. Of the 20 that featured during the 2017 final against Galway, eight are no longer involved. There was no happy ending with that climb up the steps of the Hogan Stand.

“They gave us everything they had. They’re very good lads. It’s tough for them to step away from it for whatever the reasons and to watch it develop, it can be tough. There’s one over-riding factor over-riding all those particular individuals is Waterford. That’s ultimately what we would have talked about for years and I’m sure Liam Cahill talked about and I’m sure Paraic Fanning talked about. It’s your county. That’s the huge thing.

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“Individuals don’t get what they often deserve. I look at brilliant players for Waterford, Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, John Mullane, my own brother-in-law. I think Brick played in 13 semi-finals, I’m often saying. 12 or 13 All-Ireland semi-finals, won two. Just fades off into the night then without a statement or anything, just typical Michael. Working hard with his club at the minute so it doesn’t often work like that for people.

“You’d often see debated when Brian O’Driscoll got a send-off for the rugby that Ronan O’Gara got no opportunity for a send-off. It doesn’t always work like that. I think the boys are happy in the knowledge that they emptied themselves. That’s often enough you know.”

He’ll keep a close eye on the pitch action this summer and feels the trio that emerge from the Munster minefield will not be the same that qualified in 2019.

It’s been a new era for Waterford hurling with the Tipperary influence of Liam Cahill and Mikey Bevans. After a wretched couple of seasons, they have made a flying start to the league and begun to look comfortable in Walsh Park.

“Watching the body language from everyone involved there is a real buy in and I have said this on the record,” says McGrath.

“What also has happened is that the expectation levels, after ’17 for us it was an All-Ireland or nothing and maybe that can permeate its way into the thinking of the group. Maybe a more realistic cut off line can be listen lets be as competitive as we can be.

“I think Waterford are really dangerous when the expectations are lowered on the outside. There’s freshness. They are raving about the training of Mikey Beavens, the word on the ground is that the training is really intense and really good.

“I think the negativity that surrounded the (Walsh Park) debate has actually dissipated completely and that’s good to see. It’s just complete focus on the team. Just even on Sunday (last) a real connection between the honesty of the team that they displayed and management and supporters and that’s all they want to see. All people want to see is just an honesty of effort.”

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The 21st annual KN Group All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge returns to Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort on September 11 and 12. Four-person teams are invited to represent their GAA clubs for All-Ireland glory on the golf course. This year’s Challenge is in aid of Waterford and South Kilkenny Down Syndrome Ireland. For more details, visit Facebook (All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge) or Twitter (@golfgaa).

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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