Derek McGrath: All-Ireland final 'will give everybody in Waterford a pep in their step'

By Peter McNamara

Where does the summer go?

It feels like only yesterday hurling supporters were venturing to Thurles for the Cork-Tipperary Munster SHC quarter-final. Now we are just days away from the most novel All-Ireland final-day for many, many years.

The colour that will be visible all along O’Connell Street and woven through Drumcondra on Sunday will, in itself, be a sight to behold.

Maroon and white. Blue and white. Galway. Waterford. Two counties starved of All-Ireland success. Two counties with the opportunity to create history.

It’s occasions such as the one we have before us that you feel if Croke Park had a capacity of 120,000 the scramble for tickets would still be a taxing exercise.

Of course, as we all know, if you really want one of the golden tickets, the likelihood is you will acquire one. Normally.

However, this is as unique a fixture as it gets and so some, ultimately, will have to settle for their couches or the local barstools.

A victory on Sunday for either team would spark an untold boost for the county in question, socially and economically.

In the case of Waterford, this was highlighted by both John Mullane and Derek McGrath himself, while discussing the Déíse’s All-Ireland semi-final triumph over Cork, in his post-match presser.

Waterford arrived at headquarters in 2008 for what was their most recent final appearance prior to this Sunday.

McGrath’s recollections of that day make for interesting reading in the context of what his unit are trying to achieve this year.

He said: “My wife is John Mullane’s sister so we were even at the banquet that night given the connection.

“In the run-up to that game John had said everything was going well but then you read how Waterford got it so wrong in the lead-up to that final.

“If you watch back at the very start of that game Barry Kelly throws the ball in and (James) ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick actually catches the ball.

“From that second Kilkenny were just (awesome). ‘Players were looking around in the parade’, ‘they were only interested in getting their suits’, you know this kind of craic that you hear from small-minded people.

“They met a storm. They met one of the greatest teams ever. And they were blown away.

“So, in terms of hype this time, these fellas will be grand. If we don’t perform here in three weeks it’ll just be because Galway are better.”

Yet, in Waterford, and Galway, this week, tensions will be increasing. Success in this encounter will reach beyond the immediate GAA families in either area. The electricity it will generate on a socio-economic level will be incredible.

McGrath said that day finding “balance” in the hysteria pre-match will be vital.

After all, he appreciates these occasions are not stitched in the calendar of the folk in his region.

“I think we’re going to try and get the balance right between embracing it and cocooning ourselves away from it all.

“I think if you go the route of locking yourself up for three weeks I’m not sure it would work for this group. It might work for other groups, but I’m not sure it would for this one.

“Regardless, we won’t be blown away by any of it. The narrative won’t be that this Waterford team got carried away in the run-up to the game because they want to really perform in this final and give themselves every chance.

“It’s the absolute carnage that will come with the ticket situation now is the first thought-process,” he mused, with the look of a man only too delighted to have such an issue to negotiate.

McGrath’s next few sentences were then revealing in relation to that socio-economic boost theory.

“It’s going to be brilliant. The general theme in Waterford is that we have suffered, not politically, but just in general we needed a lift,” he explained. “The town and the county needed some sort of uplifting surge. This will give everybody a pep in their step.

“And I think this group prides itself on its humility and the modesty of their approach which will see us in good form ahead of the game.

“For me, though, the whole thing hinders on one word, balance.”

If the Déise prevail, McGrath’s group will meet a storm of their own, but it’ll be post-match.

Alternatively, Micheál Donoghue’s crew will be the ones revered across their own landmass.

The point is, we possibly underestimate the impact the championship can have on our people. Unfortunately, however, that works both ways, albeit indirectly.

While Galway and Waterford are fixated with their date with destiny on Sunday, and others in counties that regularly reach All-Ireland finals can reminisce on their weeks leading up to previous finals, spare a thought for people in counties who have never experienced the pleasure of what this week brings.

And, more to the point, what a victory would bring.

That, in summation, is the true beauty of this final pairing, that one set of people will get to rejoice for many months to come.

Additionally, that socially and economically, the famine ending will lead to an explosive release of prosperity.

And even for the county that is not successful, a generation will have the week of weeks in the build-up and look forward to 2018 with hope in their hearts despite the initial disappointment.

To the victor, though, the socio-economic spoils.

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