Ken McGrath begins to feel his age as he discusses the All-Ireland final between Waterford and Galway,
The four-time Waterford All-Star is specifically discussing Austin Gleeson and which Galway player he thinks might mark him.
“From a Waterford point of view, I’d like to see him on Gearoid McInerney and see if he can bring him on a tour of Croke Park to test out the legs on the big day,” said McGrath, before starting to smile. “I actually made my own debut on McInerney’s father so you know I’m getting old! That was in 1996, in Dungarvan. We were watching the Galway-Tipperary semi-final there recently in Mount Sion having a few pints and I was telling the lads that one, they were laughing.”
McGrath ultimately went through an entire career with Waterford without ever fulfilling his All-Ireland dream.
He says it isn’t something that torments him and that nobody would be happier than he if Gleeson is the man that inspires Waterford to finally end that 58-year drought.
McGrath reckons he first began watching Gleeson, a club colleague at Mount Sion, when he was around 10 years of age, about a dozen years ago.
He has witnessed him evolve into a player that he believes can go down as one of the greatest ever.
Even allowing for Gleeson’s All-Ireland minor and U-21 wins, that’s a lofty statement considering Waterford have no history of winning big at senior level.
But McGrath is a big believer. “He played on the senior team at 17. I think that was 2012. We played De La Salle in a county final. It was my last year and he was brilliant. You knew then that ‘this fella has it’.”
Yet there is a fiery aspect to Gleeson and he was fortunate to escape a one-match ban for the incident in the semi-final win over Cork when he pulled the helmet clean off the head of Luke Meade.
Kilkenny’s TJ Reid, writing in this newspaper earlier in the week, predicted that Galway will attempt to get in Gleeson’s face and test out that spiky temperament on Sunday.
“Temperament, some of the top players have that in them and I would never take that away from anybody,” said McGrath, shrugging.
“Some of the top players have a bit of rawness in them and are liable to do anything. That’s a part of them and a part of their personality. 2I would never try and train that out of him or drill it out of him.
“He puts bums on seats and he’s liable to do anything. We always like that type of player in Waterford. That’s why I leave him to be his own man because when you can produce what he produces at times - why would you train everything out of him?
“Look, at times he can do a few rash things. I can never say anything about that because I was like that myself when I was playing. We like that type of player in Waterford but we can’t have 15 of them. But I think that definitely, just leave him be his own man.”
McGrath was centre-back on the Waterford side that was thrashed by Kilkenny in the 2008 final, the county’s last.
He was running a sports shop at the time and admitted the build-up to the tie was ‘nuts’.
“We had a couple of open sessions and there were thousands of people at them,” he said. “I don’t think the lads have had an open session this year.
“It was just manic. I had the sports shop and you were between a rock and a hard place. You wanted to be busy but it was nuts and come the weekend I was probably after burning myself out.
“That was the joys of it at the time and it’s only looking back now that you’d say it was crazy when you went through for that week or two.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.