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McGrath on possible Waterford return, interest in managing another county and Sunday Game 'regrets'

Derek McGrath refused to rule out the prospect of returning to the Deise job.

SINCE PARAIC FANNING announced his decision to step down as Waterford boss, Derek McGrath has been linked with a return to the hot-seat just a year after he vacated the position. 

Paraic Fanning after the game Paraic Fanning spent one year in charge of the Deise. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

McGrath, a school teacher in De La Salle College, guided the Deise for five seasons, delivering the Division 1 league title in 2015 and bringing them to the All-Ireland final in 2017. 

The 43-year-old was “genuinely surprised” when the news of Fanning’s departure came through while he was on a family holiday. 

While he admits he’s “not really” interested in the role at this point in time, McGrath has not entirely dismissed the prospect of a return. 

“I haven’t really thought about it,” he says. “I was saying to my wife on holidays, ‘Would you be mad to even consider it?’

“Then I was saying to myself, ‘Would you consider it?’ So my mind is a muddle on it really and that’s being completely upfront with you. There’s very, very good candidates in Waterford that are interested in the job. 

“I might be more interested in going back and getting involved in my own school and maybe rebuilding in school there and maybe coming again and having another opportunity at it.

“You can’t just walk into it either, you have to go through a process where there’s a committee appointed and if they deem you a suitable candidate they’ll interview you and they’ll have that right to do that.

“Is it interesting to me? At the minute, not really. I’m not sure I’d have the energy to invest everything I have into it again. But it’s not something I’d completely rule out either.”

Given the success he enjoyed with his native county, McGrath’s name has also been mentioned when various other inter-county jobs have cropped up. 

“It probably would interest me down the line,” he says of managing a county other than his own. “It would if the opportunity was right if there was some sort of connection with the team.

Derek McGrath Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star awards panel member Derek McGrath. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Obviously you’d have to establish the connection. But if there was something there that was linking me with it. I don’t know. ‘This is an interesting project that would interest me here’. Or something. It would definitely interest me because if you’re a hurling person, you’re a hurling person.

“If you think you could make a difference to a place, ultimately that’s what you’d go about. It’s just learning from the Waterford experience in terms of, you put your life on pause really while it was on.

“Would you be able to do that again? I took a couple of career breaks and things like that. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t be able to facilitate that.

“So it’s about learning from it, I’m not saying you’d be less emotive or being less into it, but maybe being better with time management or better with dedication.

“All the things you’d associate with management that you want to get better at, in terms of when you go back at it. I’m just trying to learn along the way.”

McGrath has assumed the role of pundit this season and shipped criticism after The Sunday Game recently when himself and Donal Og Cusack engaged in a lively debate over hurling tactics and sweepers.

A chorus of former and current players, supporters and pundits all chimed in with their disapproval of the segment, which was aired shortly after the highlights of the Tipperary-Wexford semi-final.

McGrath stands over his defence of the sweeper system but admits it wasn’t the right platform to air his views.

“I actually got on a plane at 4am on the Monday morning, I went straight to the Clayton [Hotel] where my wife and two boys were waiting. I had a feeling, ‘Well hang on here, I’m in bother here.’

“First of all, to talk about the sweeper issue, I’d say I definitely left a little bit of the lingering hurt that I experienced as a manager that I felt was inaccurate criticism of how we played.

“I definitely let that get the better of my emotions and I didn’t articulate my point in the manner that I should have. I have regrets about that definitely, even though the points I was making I’d stand over.

“But I’d have regret for using that platform. It wasn’t the right forum, the right platform for it. It was just off the back of a brilliant game and I think I allowed the emotion and lingering hurt get the better of me on the whole sweeper debate.”

He also referenced how the majority of inter-county players came through the college system and feels his point was taken up in the wrong way. 

“The second point along the college thing was more annoying from my point of view,” he says. 

“I wasn’t saying that to hurl you had to go to college, I was saying that was the pathway that often guys are choosing nowadays.

Derek McGrath Derek McGrath with the Waterford team during the 2018 Musnter SHC round-robin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I was on the panel in ’98 for Waterford, one fella on the panel had a mobile phone. I know you’re wondering why I want to compare hurling to technology, but thing have changed dramatically.

“Fellas are saying to themselves, ‘I’ll go to college and I’ll have the Monday off for recovery and be able to drive myself ambition-wise.’ I wasn’t saying for a minute that there’s not room for a farmer or a magician or a guy that’s on shift work not to go up and play [inter-county] hurling. 

“I was mad over that because I’m heavily invested in school and the Leaving Cert Applied programme, which is the old pre-employment course for guys that want to go on and do apprenticeships and do PLCs.

“I’m passionate about, I’ve been teaching about it for the last 20 years in the English and Communications section of it. It steers guys of a lesser academic ability to say to themselves, ‘There’s opportunities here.’

“The point I was making, and I’m sorry for being so passionate about this, my parents never went through secondary school. But they borrowed and stole if you like to put me through college and give me an opportunity.

“I think it’s more a reflection of what I was trying to say was that parents are now learning and thinking, ‘What will I do now to give my son an opportunity?’

“I read a strange stat yesterday: 33% took the Higher Level Maths paper [this year], as opposed to the 2011 level where it was 16%. I thought, ‘Why was that, why are people stretching themselves? Are they being encouraged to go for it more? To challenge themselves more?’

Derek McGrath with Dan Shanahan Former Waterford manager Derek McGrath consults with selector Dan Shanahan. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“And I wasn’t in any way taking from a fella that was doing an apprenticeship or whatever.

“So the first debate around the sweeper, I didn’t articulate in the manner I should have, and the platform wasn’t right. Even though the points I made I’d stand over. But the second point around college students…I could have probably articulated it better.

“I didn’t like that it perceived in a way that I was an ‘academic snob’. I’d be anything but. I struggled through college.”

In addition, McGrath felt his point about the benefits of players from different counties sharing ideas in college was lost somewhat.

“The perfect example of that, when I was in charge of Waterford, Philip O’Mahony, Darragh Fives and Tadhg De Burca were living in a house with Matthew O’Hanlon, Noel McGrath, Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh.

“They were all in the one house, six or seven of them are teachers. My point being that when it comes to big championship matches there’s a lockdown, there’s going to be no talk. Darragh could be picking up Walter Walsh, and they’re living in the one house! It’s hard going for any young fella. 

“In the off-season fellas that go to college – what you are sharing? ‘Did you get that gear tonight? We’re not getting any gear like that.’ Don’t tell me for a second that when you have a few pints over the winter, they’re not saying, ‘Were you out training tonight? Jesus you’re training hard, how many nights in a week are you doing? What are you doing strength and conditioning-wise, who’s your psychologist? Who’s your nutritionist?’

“So they are sharing, that was really my point. So then people come back to the set-up and saying, ‘Hang on they are doing this in Wexford.’

“They don’t say that but to an extent, you are probably saying to yourself, ‘We have to be on top of this, we have to be ahead of it.’ That often gets lost to the point where it can kind of add to your mind. I think that was really the point I was trying to make, but look, I learned from it.”

****

Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star awards panel member for 2019, Derek McGrath highlights the importance of the pre-game ritual to Minor players, encouraging fans to be a part of “The Championship Haircut” which returns to Croke Park for the Electric Ireland GAA All Ireland Minor Hurling Final, for the second year running. Fans can avail of a free cut or style between 11.30am – 1pm on the Cusack Stand Side. #GAAThisIsMajor

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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