Waterford hurling manager Derek McGrath was surprised by the debate he sparked a few weeks ago about intercounty management, writes Michael Moynihan.
Speaking in March, McGrath said he had taken parental leave from teaching to focus on management, and at yesterday’s Munster championship launch, he said he was taken aback by the reaction to his comments: “I was, I’d argue that I suppose I acted as a catalyst for a debate about paid managers but I didn’t actually say they should be paid. I said it might clear up ambiguity about it, I didn’t say they should be (paid).
“I knew leaving Croke Park that day — I wouldn’t say that I’d made a mistake, but I’d probably been too candid. Sparking a debate… I was just being myself, so if you make a mistake being yourself, that’s alright then.
“If you read the point I made — and in fairness, ye wrote it well — it depends on the personality. My personality was such that I wasn’t performing well in the classroom, and other personalities are able to cope with that better, to switch better.
“In my school my commitment is to the kids, all or nothing, and I mean that not in an overpowering way, but I have a great commitment to those kids and that school. I went there in 1989 as the only student from St Saviour’s Ballybeg, so I have a massive commitment and emotional bond with the school — and I wasn’t doing my job properly.
“I was doing it okay but not properly. I think others are probably better switching off from hurling, but it sparked a huge debate. Maybe that’s healthy as well.”
McGrath stressed the encouragement he has received from his school: “I’ve received nothing but support from the school. I probably failed to mention the fact that parental leave is ultimately for looking after your children as well, that’s a prerequisite of parental leave! I’d normally be sharper than I was, not being boastful, but parental leave is in the name of the kids.
“I got no ticking off from the school — nothing but support from the principal, Margaret Betts, nothing but texts before matches. As I said, the sustainability of it is questionable but I’m determined to enjoy the championship.”
McGrath welcomed the proposed changes to the hurling championship aired by GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl.
“I’ve been championing that from a year ago, or an alteration to the league set-up.
“Looking at the changes, I welcome them, I have to say. Clearly the Munster and Leinster Councils still retain power, if you like, but the two home and two away games would be welcome.
“Speaking to some players yesterday, I could possibly see a dilution of the league. As a manager you’re trying to prepare for four championship games in May-June — I’m not sure of the calendar — and then preparing for two league-type championship games, so where does the Munster League or Walsh Cup fit in? That’s normally January, then you’re heading to February.
“It looks like I’m finding fault, but I’m not. Going back to my original point, if you went back to two groups of six in the league coinciding with the proposals, then it might lighten the league for everybody.
“If the league came to January-February, and then you shut down March and April for the clubs, then the championship begins — I’m not sure if that’s the definitive calendar, and I don’t know how provincial officials would feel about it, but in my own head that’s how the calendar would be.
“When it comes to club fixtures, the reality is that the fourth or fifth teams could be finished in mid-June by the sound of the proposals. In that case your club championship would run fairly well.
“I’d have faith in the hurling committee — I don’t think they’re reactionary but that those were their proposals anyway, it’s just the football structure has probably accelerated them drawing up those plans.”
McGrath agreed that it might necessitate revamping Waterford’s Walsh Park to enable it to hold inter county championship games: “Without doubt, as much as anything the aesthetics of how it looks — I came on as a sub in 1996, Ken McGrath’s debut, and there were 15,000-16,000 in Walsh Park, the last championship game played there.
“There’s a lot involved in terms of the capital that needs to be raised for the venture. I’d be slow to write off the ground, but it might act as a spark to say, ‘we need to do something with our ground here’. I don’t want to be damning of the people driving that.”
Waterford’s main injury worries should be available for their championship opener on June 4th, McGrath added.
“Philip Mahony will be good to go. Conor Gleeson got good news, his hand was wired up but those will be taken out in the next two weeks and within a week of that he’ll be hurling, so he’ll have three weeks of good hurling preparation.
“Barry Coughlan has a scan next Tuesday but his jaw isn’t wired, and if the scan shows it’s healing naturally, he’ll need a couple of weeks of proper nutrition. He’s been eating smoothies and hasn’t eaten properly for a month.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.