'At times he can do a few rash things...I was like that myself when I was playing'

Ken McGrath sees similarities between his temperament and that of Deise star Austin Gleeson.

IT’S BEEN NINE years since Waterford last competed in the All-Ireland final.

Ken McGrath Ken McGrath was speaking at the launch of the 2017 eir Sport Sports Book of the Year Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

They entire county was swept away with the hype in the weeks before the 2008 decider – their first September appearance since 1963. A horrendous 23-point battering by Kilkenny followed and hurt from that mauling still lingers in the county.

Players and supporters alike have learned from that defeat. While excitement levels have reached fever pitch, McGrath believes the current squad have a better handle on the preparations.

“Looking back (to 2008) we were so excited I think we played the game before the match,” says McGrath. “We spent all our emotions.

“The thing went over the top we had a couple of open sessions and there was thousands of people at them. I don’t think the lads have had an open session this year they are just concentrating on working for Galway.

“I had the sports shop at the time and you were between a rock and a hard place. You wanted to be busy but it was nuts and come the weekend I was probably after burning myself out.

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“It was a great craic I didn’t mind doing it at the time but looking back it wasn’t the best preparation. I’m sure now if one of the boys had a sport shop they wouldn’t be allowed in it for the week.”

Martin Comerford and Ken McGrath Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Galway are not quite as formidable as that four-in-a-row Kilkenny side were, but they’re still warm favourites to end a famine of their own and lift the title on Sunday.

McGrath is 39 now, and six years removed from inter-county hurling. A quick glance at the Galway team gives a stark reminder of how quickly the years have passed by.

Galway’s 26-year-old centre-back Gearoid McInerney is the son of two-time All-Ireland winner Gerry McInerney.

“I actually made my debut on his father so you know I’m getting old,” laughs McGrath.

“I made my debut (on Gerry) in 1996 in Dungarvan. We were watching the Galway-Tipp game in Mount Sion having a few pints and I was telling the lads that, they were laughing.”

Gearoid McInerney Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One of the key battles on Sunday will be McInerney’s tussle with Deise centre-forward Austin Gleeson. McGrath has been closely watching Gleeson blossom as a hurler, from a 10-year-old in the Mount Sion academy to being named Hurler of the Year last November.

“I would’ve know him all my life growing up because he’s Mount Sion. Probably around 15 he started to develop as a top prospect.

“He played on the senior team at 17, I think it was 2012. We played De La Salle in a county final. It was my last year and he was brilliant. You knew that this fella has it.

“They won the minor final the following year. He was a brilliant centre-back for the Waterford minor team. He’s a top class player. He has everything. The mentality he has to be quiet at times and then produce the level of skills and performance, that’s some going. There’s not every amateur GAA player can do that. He’s one of the few lads that can.”

Like McGrath during his playing days, Gleeson is prone to the odd moment of indiscipline. The 22-year-old is somewhat fortunate to be available for the final, having pulled the helmet off the head of Luke Meade during the All-Ireland semi-final last month.

“Temperament, some of the top players have that in them and I would never take that away from anybody. Some of the top players have a bit of rawness in them and are liable to do anything. That’s a part of them and a part of their personality. I would never try and train that out of him or drill it out of him.

Austin Gleeson celebrates a late score

“He puts bums on seats and he’s liable to do anything. We always like that type of player in Waterford. That’s why I leave him be his own man because when you can produce what he produces at times – why would you train everything out of him?

“Look, at times he can do a few rash things. I can never say anything about that because I was like that myself when I was playing. We like that type of player in Waterford but we can’t have 15 of them. I think that definitely, leave him be his own man.

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“You’re under a lot of scrutiny when you are Hurler of the Year and people are expecting so much more. He’s an unreal mentality. To be quiet for so long in the Cork game and then produce what he did, shows he’s definitely maturing as a hurler.

“If I was playing and I was quiet for 55 minutes, I couldn’t produce what he was doing the last 15 minutes because I’d probably be thinking too much or saying this isn’t my day. Joe (Canning) done it the week before and they’re very similar in what they can do for the team.”

Earlier this week, McGrath’s former teammate John Mullane doubled down on his intention to “jump on a horse in the nude and go down the Quays” if Waterford win.

“The horse! We were doing a thing over in Coppers last night about the final and the whole thing was about the horse again,” says McGrath.

“I don’t know how he gets himself into these situations. If we win on Sunday and you give him enough vodka and Red Bull he could be on the horse up O’Connell Street.

“He said that in May, it might come back to haunt him. He’s doing a bit of training because he thinks he’s after putting on a bit of a belly. He’ll have the mock tan on and he’ll draw a six-pack! Ah he’s good craic and his sign is everywhere, ‘I loves me county’.

“We had some great characters on that team. It was a different time but I know every one of them will be up at the weekend and they can’t wait for it. If we win it’d be great, it’s been too long.”

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