Brian Cody’s side had edged into the decider after two absorbing semi-final battles against the Déise and McGrath had a gut feeling that Kilkenny would find a way past Tipperary in the decider.
“I expected Kilkenny to win because I just expected they’d find a way to win, not based on absolute logic, it was more a gut feeling,” said McGrath. “Looking back on it, you’d have to say Tipperary were so primed for the final with their attacking threat, the sextet up front in terms of what they can do, their inter-changing and the space they created on the day.”
It was an afternoon of double celebrations for the Premier County as their minors also achieved All- Ireland glory. The fact none of this team will see senior action for at least another year or two highlights the strong position Tipp hurling currently finds itself in.
“Tipperary’s minors won the All-Ireland impressively. If that was the situation in Waterford we would probably fast forward those guys straight away [to senior]. Tipp, for me, are at the stage where those fellas can serve an apprenticeship, similar to Kilkenny, where you don’t have to rush them in. Tippare in a really strong position. Even ourselves, De La Salle, we were playing Thurles CBS in the Harty last week and Thurles wiped us. There’s lots and lots of hurlers in Tipperary.”
Waterford took the last of the All-Ireland titles up for grabs but there’ll be no fast-tracking of players from Sean Power’s U21 side onto the senior set-up given most are already working under McGrath at senior level.
“We were delighted as a management [with the U21 win], 12 of them were involved with us over the last few years. It’s great that there was something tangible in terms of a cup at the end of the year.
“With encouragement comes a kind of a forewarning, the obvious difference being that if you met a guy on the street, ‘he’d say, ‘you’d have a job picking that team next year with the U21’s’, whereas the reality is the U21s are in with us already. The major core of that U21 team have been exposed to senior level.
“Take TJ Ryan’s situation this year, promoting guys from U21, some of them had actually never played senior. Our lads have already played at senior level, so it’s a different dynamic. Albeit there’s one or two you’d hope to pick from going into the future.”
Waterford’s season, as mentioned above, came to an end at the hands of Kilkenny. McGrath feels the critical period of the replay was not Pauric Mahony’s missed free four minutes into second-half stoppage time as Waterford trailed by the minimum, rather the closing stages of the first period.
“The first-half turned into a bit of a shootout which, maybe, didn’t overly suit us. The balance between keeping it tight and being offensive was lost for a while. The killer period was the actual few minutes of injury time where Kilkenny got three points. We went from going in level to being three points behind. Liam Blanchfield had a goal chance that could have put them seven points up.”
On Mahony’s missed free, he added: “I think his subsequent handling of that - and I’ve spoken to him - he would have the utmost respect for anyone that would say he probably should have got the free. He’s actually said he knew almost immediately he hadn’t given it enough. He’s strong enough to deal with it going forward.”
Neighbours Wexford recently appointed Davy Fitzgerald as their new manager and McGrath reckons it was a smart move by the Wexford County Board.
“It’s a match made in heaven. It’s a perfect match, Davy and Wexford. In terms of a management and in terms of a pressure free zone, it’s an ideal scenario for Davy in that you’re in 1B and there’s not the same stigmatised approach in terms of relegation and promotion there is in 1A from your respective supporters.”
Derek McGrath has been named the Gaelic Writers Association 2016 Hurling Personality of the Year. The GWA awards ceremony takes place in Dublin’s Jackson Court Hotel tonight.