'My first mistake was coming in after a player coup': Derek McGrath reflects on Waterford tenure

By John Fogarty

Former Waterford manager Derek McGrath has called on more sophisticated score detection technology to be installed at all county venues to ensure fairness.

In an exclusive interview with Eamon Keane to be broadcast on WLR FM’s Déise Today programme this morning, the 42-year-old condemned Alan Kelly’s umpire’s decision to allow Jason Forde’s goal, which helped Tipperary towards securing a draw against Waterford in the Gaelic Grounds last month.

McGrath didn’t wallow on the decision at the time and tried to move on from it in post-match interviews but on reflection he believes teams shouldn’t lose out as a result of such calls.

“When you’re on the back of something like that, all aspects of preparation and decision-making have to be analysed, particularly when you have a group like our group who put everything into it and you’re dependent on those things and you’ve played really well that day and it comes down to that, a human error as such...

I don’t think it was with malicious intent but (perhaps he felt) ‘I’ll give this goal because if I don’t give it they’ll show on The Sunday Game that it was a goal’.

“It was an almost spur of the moment, ‘I better give this because it might be a goal’. I think when it’s might you can’t give it. I think it’s time for the technology to make its way to all the grounds and for there to be fairness across the board.”

Regarding regrets of his reign, McGrath admitted he was slightly naive in his opening season in 2014.

“The first mistake I made was I came in on the back of a player coup, Michael Ryan’s term had ended and I was instantly favoured for the job. It almost sparked an emotion in me that I nearly had to go for it. I’m not sure if I was completely ready - I was managing De La Salle at the time. I had a relationship with some of the players coming to the forefront so I became the tip (for the job).

“I surrounded myself with brilliant men that year - Frank Flannery, Willie Maher, Dan (Shanahan) and we had a perceived high-class backroom team and the reality was they were. Whilst our ideas and our concepts were the same, I felt I was doing too much delegation, almost ticking every box as opposed to doing what I wanted to do myself.

“I also felt given the situation with Michael’s leaving there was an atmosphere that almost followed me around for the whole year in terms of outside perception permeating its way into the group like ‘they got rid of a good man in Michael Ryan’. I almost felt like I was on a loser no matter what.”

McGrath conceded his errors extended to Sunday when he erroneously replaced Jake Dillon after a miscommunication that he was injured during the game against Cork. He apologised to Dillon following the game.

“Jake was having his best game of the year and you beat yourself up about that. We made a lot of genuine and honest mistakes and I can live with those.”

McGrath felt he was burned out by the expectations he placed on himself and said there is no more he can give to the cause at this time and is in need of “recharging”.

He confirmed he informed the players of his decision to resign in the Horse and Jockey Hotel following Sunday’s Munster SHC Round 5 defeat to Cork. The De La Salle College teacher said it was an emotional experience for everyone, admitting he was “blubbering”, and individually embraced each member of the panel.

The players who have decided not to travel this summer or are undecided joined McGrath in his home last night for farewell drinks.

He revealed he was approached by players to stay on, given the freakish number of injuries, the “ghost goal” and the lack of home matches that befell Waterford in recent weeks and acknowledged the temptation was there to do so, but not strong enough for him to change his mind.

McGrath was also contacted by others outside the camp and county, such as Nicky English, to stick it out in 2019.

I had a 15% possibility in my head that ‘yeah, they’re right, I’ll go back’, but my mind was certainly leaning towards needing a break and going back to the classroom. I miss school.

Despite what happened this year, he wasn’t adamant he was right to remain on for a fifth season, despite having some concerns following last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Galway.

“I don’t think it’s ever a mistake when you’re giving your absolute best. I spoke about being less obsessed at the start of this year but I became more obsessed when we weren’t going well and ‘how can I fix it, how can I fix it?’ I don’t think it was a mistake, because I owed it to the lads. I told them that last year on September 29 in The Sweep (pub in Kilmeaden outside Waterford city) that we would give it everything we can.”

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This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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