McGrath said he would have been a “hypocrite” if he’d stood in Devine’s way but admitted he had pleaded with the big man from Modeligo to reconsider.
“On Mondays and Tuesdays I’d do one-to-ones with the lads,” said McGrath.
“Tom had said to me: ‘Mac, any chance of that one-to-one?’ but I had slots filled on the Monday between the Clare and Galway games.
“I was supposed to meet him the day after the Galway game but I got a tip-off after that game that there was a hint about travelling.
“I was thinking then: ‘I’m glad I didn’t meet him for that one-to-one because I wouldn’t have played him against Galway or Clare’!
“We trained on Tuesday and we met after training and he said he was going travelling. I pleaded with him — told him how integral he was to the forward line, that the kick he might get from the performance against Galway might be enough to turn his head in terms of staying and being at the fulcrum of the attack.”
Devine considered his options for the next two days before contacting McGrath with his decision.
“He phoned me to say he’d thought about it for 48 hours, and that he was going to Africa for six weeks and San Francisco after that. I can’t be a hypocrite because a huge amount of what we’ve tried to do over the last four years has been based on their academic development.”
McGrath pointed out that few inter-county players have succeeded in balancing medical studies with their playing commitments: “Doing some analysis on it, I think Jack McCaffrey, Conor McDonald with the Tipp footballers, and Brendan Murphy of Offaly - you can’t name too many who get the balance right.
“Tom said it was holistic, it’s career-based, and he’ll go on getting scores with UCC and Modeligo, so the rumour mill, the rumblings that he didn’t get on with us, that’ll continue.
“But the truth is very different — you saw that in his own words (Devine released a statement explaining his decision). It’s a career-based decision and he loves to travel - he told me straight, ‘I like hurling but I love to travel.’
“Those were his exact words.
“A free-spirited guy like him, you can’t stand in his way and be a hypocrite, but I did plead with him. I presented a fairly strong argument that he’d be central to the team’s development.
“I said after the Clare game that it was up to us as a management to give him more time, and I didn’t do that on the back of knowing he was going away. It was time to give him a sustained chance.
“Against Kilkenny in the league he played very well but we didn’t start him against Tipperary because we wanted to create a horses for courses approach, that just because you played well one day... he came on for Michael Walsh against Tipp and did well enough, but we didn’t play him at all against Dublin.
“I can see how he might have thought he wasn’t getting a sustained run on the team, but that never came through to us, he was a gentleman to deal with when he wasn’t getting a run. A thorough professional. We wish him well — we might need him in coronary care in a few years! The (medical) career could take over the hurling career if I were to guess.”
The Waterford manager laughed when asked about the prospects of picking his selector Dan Shanahan, who has been in free-scoring form in the local championship with his club Lismore: “Well, someone said the best forwards in the club games in Waterford recently were Dan and John Mullane...
“Dan’s been playing very well, I knew when the balls were in the air that he’d get goals, but when he was playing junior football last weekend I said he was in trouble, because you can’t play the hurley in junior football. He finished his goals brilliantly, and rolled back the years, so did John. Maybe at times when Dan is tantalisingly close to going on the field the temptation is there to put on the helmet, but he’ll be staying in his role as a selector.”