When Ken McGrath tweeted after the drawn Division 1 final he was glad he played hurling when he did, it struck a chord with followers of the game flummoxed with the sweeper system.
His attitude and those of others changed after the replay but the disdain for current tactics hasn’t gone away, and the yearn for the return of the Cork-Waterford classics of the 2000s grows. Nostalgia, though, is of little concern to McGrath.
“There was a lot of doom and gloom after the first game against Waterford, especially after the first half. But I think the second match was a great match and the second half and extra-time of the first match was fairly exciting. It’s easy to look back on matches in the past in the 90s and the 2000s and think they were great matches. I’m sure there were plenty of bad matches then, as there are these days. There’s still a great buzz to playing big matches.
“Them Cork and Waterford matches, people look back on them in particular as very exciting matches and I think it was more the nature of the Waterford team at the time and the extravagant set of forwards that they had. They were great players. There is still plenty of space and opportunities for forwards nowadays to take advantage of. I wouldn’t see it as an excuse in the modern game.”
In the immediate aftermath of the drawn match, Colin Ryan said what people thought of Clare’s style meant little to the players as long as it was producing results. McGrath sees likewise. “I’m along the same lines as Colin — we’ve lost enough matches over the years and we’re not too worried about whether people think the matches now are good, bad, entertaining to watch. It’s all about getting over the line in those tight matches and whatever way is the best way to do it, you do it.”
McGrath highlights the quality of score-taking nowadays. “The way the game is being played now, it certainly leads to a lot more long-range point shooting and the ones that go over are certainly great scores. It’s just the way that people are used to seeing long-range scores. In many ways, it’s probably easier to score around midfield or the half back or forward line than it is for a corner forward or a full-forward playing inside to score. It’s just the way the game is going and I wouldn’t see it as any better or worse than what it was years ago. It’s just a slightly different style.”
Aside from a narrow margin, McGrath anticipates tomorrow won’t have much in common with the Division 1 final replay, although he realises Waterford will bring plenty of motivation to Thurles after Diarmuid Kirwan’s late decision not to award Jamie Barron a free prior to Tony Kelly’s equaliser and subsequent winner. Does he feel Waterford’s grievance took some of the lustre away from Clare’s victory?
“Waterford were aggrieved by the decision, no question, but we certainly wouldn’t feel the win is any less valued. We were just delighted to win it. There are refereeing decisions in every match that go either way that are fairly minimal but you have to just take those breaks when they come along, and we were delighted to take advantage of them.
“Obviously, any team that are beaten in a tight match like that want to take revenge in the next match, and I’m sure we would have been the same, if we’d be beaten. Waterford will be out to turn the tables the next day and I can’t see there being too much between the teams again. Waterford were up in both matches with time almost up and I’m sure it will come down to the last couple of minutes again.”
At the same time, McGrath knows Clare won’t be lacking incentive. Since he came into the panel in 2011, the county have won just one of six provincial matches.
“Certainly, as long as I have been involved, we’ve had a very poor record in Munster. Pat Donnellan and Brendan Bugler are the only ones who have ever actually played in a Munster final. We just want to win the first match and get to a Munster final. That’s our main goal and if we manage to get over that, we’ll worry about the rest of the summer after that.”