Time heals, time relieves and time changes.
Not that Derek McGrath has a lot of it even though he’s away from the coalface of inter-county hurling almost two years. Working with the Laois minors twice a week, Lee Chin’s Faythe Harriers, and his own De La Salle club’s nursery teams keeps him busy and before Christmas he completed a course in positive psychology.
But after looking on at Waterford last season like a concerned parent, McGrath feels more like a supporter these days. “I watched the Waterford-Cork game on telly and I went to the Waterford-Tipp game on Sunday. I was working the week of the Westmeath game on the Sunday so I’ve seen two out of three games and you know what I’m finding it way easier than last year.
“I find it way easier to watch the matches. Maybe the year out I’m starting to get a lot more mellow in terms of watching and supporting them and getting involved in it and enjoying the day out whereas I didn’t really enjoy the days out last year. Maybe it was because you are in the bubble for so long and when you are out of it you feel like you should be in it but now you are just comfortable out of it, you know?”
He needed the break last year, though. For 20 straight years he had been coaching.
“I played two championship matches with Waterford ‘96 and ‘98, I was gone off the panel in ‘99. I was straight into coaching, I coached De La Salle in ‘99, we won the Féile, Kevin Moran’s team, and I started teaching in ‘99, I went straight into the Munster Colleges. I went straight into coaching school teams, White Cup, Dean Ryan.
“I would have just been on the road with the Harty in ‘07 and ‘08, finished with De La Salle in 2011 playing, managing ‘12 and ‘13, I went straight into managing Waterford in ‘14, so it’s after being kind of constant in terms of coaching and sometimes I think the managing is more time-consuming and more mentally draining. A year or two tipping away at a few things is nice.”
Stepping down as he did, McGrath was able to finish as Waterford manager on his own terms but the same wasn’t afforded to Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan. Last Tuesday, Connors joined McGrath in a panel discussion in Waterford Castle to help launch the KN Group All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge and he couldn’t but feel for the corner-back.
“They’re very good lads, you can see from Noel there in the Q&A, it’s tough going to be talking about it. He held himself really well there, he’s a great lad. It’s tough for them to step away from it for whatever the reasons and to watch it develop, it can be tough.
“There’s one overriding factor for all those particular individuals, and it’s Waterford. That’s ultimately what we would have talked about for years and I’m sure Liam Cahill talked about it and I’m sure Páraic Fanning talked about it, overriding everything in terms of who’s
involved and who’s not involved, it’s your county. That’s the huge thing.
“Individuals don’t get what they often deserve. Brick [Walsh], I think Brick played in 13 semi-finals, I’m often saying. Twelve or 13 All-Ireland semi-finals, won two. Just fades off into the night then without a statement or anything, just typical Michael. It doesn’t often work like that for people.
“You’d often see debated when Brian O’Driscoll got a send-off for the rugby that Ronan O’Gara got no opportunity for a send-off. It doesn’t always work like that. I think the boys are happy in the knowledge that they emptied themselves. That’s often enough, you know, that’s often enough.”
For those that have been part of the last two forgettable seasons and remain in the panel, McGrath says they are sore but dismisses the notion they are soft.
“I know last year they got criticism and people saying ‘Look, it’s the players.’ I know that group the very first thing they would have done is look at themselves. The very first port of call for those players would have been to say ‘I’m disappointed’ and any theory whereby they weren’t putting an effort in I would completely disagree with that.
“In actual fact, the whole theory out there that county players are fragile or soft, I don’t think there’s a county player I know that is soft. They have inconsistent performances but they take it really seriously and mentally when things don’t go well they suffer.”
As a work colleague and friend, McGrath has noticed how Moran has been revitalised by the new management. The players have responded to the professional ethic of Cahill and coach Michael Bevans.
“It’s like they (players) are saying to themselves, ‘Look, we’ll draw a line in the sand and we’ll have one cut at it and concentrate on performances,’ and they seem to be following good processes. They are raving about the training of Mikey Bevans; the word on the ground is the training is really intense and really good.
“I watched Bevans (in Thurles) on Sunday and I watched him closely and Jack Fagan caught one ball, turned and went for a score. Bevans went straight out and seemed to say the next one you get take him on. Thenext ball Jack got he took him on so you could see the instructions being taken on board in a minute, I was watching them closely. He looked really sharp, as most maor foirnes are, but it is interesting when you see it from a different perspective.”