BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Derek McGrath’s open approach truly a breath of fresh air

Some say it’s been a smear campaign, others dismiss that as the ravings of conspiracy theorists.

Whatever your view on the Lee Keegan/Diarmuid Connolly subplot, there is no denying it has all been utterly tiresome.

And avoidable.

The prospect of having to sit down yesterday morning in Dublin to ask Jim (Stonewall) Gavin’s views on a subplot that has wasted more time and space than a Kardashian wedding shoot special were less than pleasant until the order arrived by email from those higher up to reroute towards the Aviva Stadium.

Gavin’s sitdown was over by 8.30am.

The Huddle performance, leadership and networking conference across town was only clearing its throat by then. A marathon schedule over 10 hours, taking in 13 topics and 23 speakers, it was after 3pm when Waterford hurling manager Derek McGrath took to the stage.

McGrath’s intelligence, his good nature and his willingness to share his thoughts have been a godsend on the increasingly paranoid and secretive inter-county GAA scene this past three years and the secondary school teacher inadvertently highlighted that distrustful culture during yesterday’s discussion.

“We have a very open media policy,” he explained at one point.

“And you are battling with the demons in your own head saying: ‘Jesus, he’s up at Huddle today and he should be at his fifth year English class, who does he think he is?’ As well as someone saying maybe he or the players have lost the run of themselves.

“Part of the process is to allow guys like Austin Gleeson and Noel Connors (talk). We have guys who are only learning that process of talking to the media and making mistakes but we have never cloned them to speak in a certain manner. Actions around training: that sets the tone for a certain type of behaviour to follow.”

Amen, brother!

Vast tracts of yesterday’s conference dealt with topical and worthy-if-trendy ideas such as leadership and culture and the inner workings that make athletes tick, so it was fascinating to listen to a plain-speaking coach of McGrath’s standing explain how some of these theories are put into practice.

Such frankness is heresy to so many of his counterparts - regardless of whether it is prior to an All-Ireland final or after a team’s championship exit - so strange to say then that he failed to burst into flames for his sins.

Turns out he’s read all the books a manager probably should. Pep Confidential

by Marti Perarnau and James Kerr’s Legacy

on what it is that makes the All Blacks the All Blacks were just two mentioned. Through it all, McGrath has eschewed convention and sought to work out what it is that works for him and his team. What is their identity? How can they be true to themselves?

Talking to media is just one part of that.

The willingness to thumb a nose at the norm was demonstrated with a good yarn about a day back in mid-February when, with less than a week before their league opener with Kilkenny, he watched six of his squad lose a Fitzgibbon Cup match with UCC before bringing them for a steak dinner.

“The whole atmosphere was: ‘the minute he goes now we’ll have a few pints’, irrespective of the first round league match being on the Sunday. So I just said ‘look lads, ye can have a few pints’. I actually left them a few bob to have a few pints but what I’m saying is I was dealing with a situation with what I felt was right at that time.

“It goes against the grain of what you’ve heard already here today about nutrition and all, and I’m not promoting drink culture, but I would say, selfishly, that, whenever it may be during the year, that effort or act of kindness will be reciprocated back to me in kind on the field of play or off it.”

As he went on it was impossible not to contrast all that honesty and openness, which is equally apparent during the hurling championship, with the few, mostly nonsense, sound bytes offered up by Mayo and Dublin this last week.

Would the newspapers and airwaves be filled with commentary on the Keegan-Connolly tete-a-tete if both counties had provided a half-dozen players and coaches to properly chew the fat at some point after the draw? No, they would not, so the vacuum filled itself.

There are no shortage of Derek McGraths out there. It would be a pleasure to hear what it is that makes them tick.


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