Former Waterford attacker Seamus Prendergast reckons Derek McGrath’s counter-attacking approach has about 60% support in the county and that critics will pounce if they struggle in the Allianz League.
Prendergast, a starter in all four of Waterford’s Munster championship wins in the modern era, played a season under McGrath in 2014 before retiring.
The attacker said he personally prefers the more ‘off-the-cuff’ and ‘flamboyant’ style to the sweeper system employed by McGrath since 2015.
However, he acknowledged that if Waterford had beaten Galway in the All-Ireland final and ended a near 60-year wait for success, nobody in the county would be complaining.
Prendergast was among a large group of players that left the Waterford setup after a poor 2014 Championship, though he noted that, at 34, he happily retired and wasn’t pushed. He agreed that a clear out was necessary as “we weren’t going to add much to it, at that stage”.
Waterford have reached the All-Ireland semi-finals every season since, won a National League, contested two Munster finals and reached an All-Ireland final.
However, Prendergast said former colleague Tony Browne was correct when stating in August that supporters are still split 50-50 on McGrath’s tactics and could turn on him quickly.
“Yeah, I’d say it would be 50-50,” said Prendergast. “Look, the older generation have seen Waterford playing that kind of open off-the-cuff hurling for the last 50 years.
“It’s a big change for them, those people always want that style of hurling there.
“They call it the Waterford style, I suppose. It could have been 60-40 (against) up until the All-Ireland final, it might be 60-40 the other way now, that they’d prefer the way that got them to the All-Ireland.
“If we won, everybody would be saying they love it. It’s a love or hate thing. They’ll be out again next year, even after getting to an All-Ireland, if they lose a game or two in the league, which can easily happen when you’re in that Division 1A section, where every game is a serious game. If they lose a couple of games, they will be out again and they’ll be questioning his ideas.”
Prendergast, 37, who will feature for Ardmore in Sunday’s AIB Munster junior club hurling final against Ballybacon-Grange, said his personal preference is for the traditional approach.
“I’d be lying if I said [anything else]. I do rather the old style of Waterford hurling, more flamboyant,” he continued.
“Is it ‘Justin McCarthy hurling’ or ‘off-the-cuff hurling’? I suppose every manager has their own ideas about playing to their strengths. That’s what Derek is doing, but obviously I’d rather if they pushed up and played more in attack, but he will do what he feels is best for the team.”
Prendergast has called on McGrath to consider keeping as many as three players in the full-forward line for the majority of games in 2018.
“I know they got a lot of goals against Cork and Kilkenny, but I think they need to push up for longer periods of the game to really threaten a lot of the top teams that are winning All-Irelands, keep three lads in the full-forwards for the majority of the time,” he said.
“I think they’ll have to change a little. The system they have, look, it got them to the All-Ireland final, so you can’t knock it too much, but if they can tweak it a little and push a little further up the field, keep at least two, maybe three, inside in the full- forward line as often as they can. I think that would benefit their cause.”
Prendergast also believes McGrath needs to throw some new blood into the mix.
“I think they’ll need a couple of lads to freshen it up a bit,” he said.
“They have a panel of 34 or 35 and have been giving fellas games, but I think they’ll need to maybe give them more league time to see what they’re really made of. There’s no point waiting until the championship. Tom Devine is coming back and he could be an addition to them, if he gets enough games and gets his hurling sharp enough. Patrick Curran is another lad that has been there or thereabouts and has been on the minor and U21 All-Ireland teams, so he has a bit of experience. He’s a class hurler, there’s a few fellas like them who might help to bring it to the next level.”
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