“I think it’s a wonderful skill — I could pretend it should be banned but I was at challenge matches in Danesfort in 1989 between Tipperary and Kilkenny, and I saw Declan Ryan doing it three times in a game.
“It’s nothing new. In the 1989 Munster final, Nicky English balanced the ball on his hurley for four or five seconds before he put it over the bar. That’s when the balancing the ball started and Eoin Kelly of Tipp still does that on frees. Anthony Nash’s goal in the All-Ireland final replay that was slightly to the side of the 21 was one of the best pieces of skill I ever saw in Croke Park, to have the mentality to come forward and be cajoled and intimidated along the way and still remain focused.
“I was at the league game between Dublin and Kilkenny this year and TJ Reid did it to a T as well; I’ve seen him doing it for Ballyhale against De La Salle as well, I just think it’s a brilliant skill.
“I might be lamenting it on Sunday but I have to say it’s a brilliant skill.”
Waterford and Cork meet on Sunday in the first game of the Munster senior hurling championship. McGrath doesn’t have any doubts about the favourites: “Look, if Brian Gavin had blown the whistle 10 seconds earlier last year, we’d be talking about playing the All-Ireland champions. Conor Lehane, Seamie Harnedy, Pa Cronin, Aidan Walsh, Jamie Coughlan and Alan Cadogan and Pat Horgan, there’s six or seven very potent forwards there. What’s happened in Cork is that there’s been a process where Jimmy, in his first years back brought back Seán Óg (Ó hAilpín), John Gardiner, Cathal Naughton and Jerry O’Connor, and had them involved.
“Then there was a process whereby he went down the youth route, their 2010 U21 team who were beaten by Tipp after extra-time — Pa Cronin, Lorcain McLoughlin, Luke O’Farrell. When Tipp won the senior and U21s that year people were saying they were going to dominate for years and the reality is that Cork had them that year in extra-time. What happens is we win the minor and the perception is, ‘oh the players are there in Waterford’, but they’re there in Cork too. I don’t gamble but I’d say we’ll be 3/1 and Cork will be 2/1.”
McGrath took over when Michael Ryan was ousted controversially last year — “a difficult scenario”.
“I’d be very friendly with Michael. He trained our club team (De La Salle) in 2010 and it was a difficult scenario to walk into.
“The perception then is that you’re living in the shadow of being compared with your predecessors and that has been a difficult scenario on a personal level for me, but in terms of the players and their approach, they’re brilliant.
“There’s no elephant in the room and there’s a positive attitude from the players, even though we struggled in the league.
“We stayed on the pitch after the Kilkenny match and we’d some good chats about where we were going. But we agreed the process of implementing new things takes time. When you’re playing a team that have particular strengths and you want to set up in a particular way, the process sometimes involves disgruntled fans but that’s why the players and management have to remain very united and strong.
“That’s hard to do in a place that craves success. I read an article in the Irish Examiner about Limerick and Donal O’Grady recently, how he came in and implemented a new short style, trying to do something different based on no previous success. We’re in the process of finding our way.”
Part of that process involved a training week in Portugal — well worth it, says McGrath, despite some criticism in Waterford of the venture. “The value from our perspective was that lads solely raised the money for it and solely contributed to it, they were the driving force as much as us. It was a consultative process and the fact that lads give up a week’s work and fund themselves to do a week’s work for their county, should be applauded rather than any negative perception. We built a lot of spirit by lads mucking in to put it together. I think it was the timing of it... we were relegated and then we were heading off for a week in Portugal and the perception is that you’re living it up over there. But the reality is that you’re training three times a day. The value was massive. We’d have liked to maintain a bit of momentum from Portugal with the club but that’s for another day.”
Meanwhile McGrath has handed championship debuts to four players for Sunday’s clash against Cork. Tadhg Burke is selected at right corner-back, with Barry Coughlan taking hold of the number seven shirt.
Colin Dunford, aged 19, and All-Ireland minor winner Austin Gleeson will occupy the half-forward berths. Injuries have plagued the squad throughout the spring and there are only eight survivors from the team that lost out to Kilkenny in the qualifiers. Daragh Fives, Richie Foley, Jamie Barron, Stephen Molumphy, Stephen Bennett, Brian O’Halloran, Philip Mahony and Stephen Daniels are all still in the sickbay, with Shane O’Sullivan missing out through suspension.
WATERFORD (Munster SHC v Cork): S O’Keeffe; T Burke, L Lawlor, N Connors; J Nagle, M Walsh, B Coughlan; K Moran, E Barrett; C Dunford, P Mahony, A Gleeson; B O’Sullivan, S Walsh, J Dillon.