Ken McGrath: 'It was an unbelievably hard time for Justin. It wasn’t a good thing to do'

Waterford legend Ken McGrath regrets the 2008 heave against manager Justin McCarthy
Ken McGrath: 'It was an unbelievably hard time for Justin. It wasn’t a good thing to do'
©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

If former Waterford star Ken McGrath had his time over again, he wouldn’t have participated in the heave against manager Justin McCarthy in 2008.

After a Munster Championship defeat by Clare that summer, the Waterford players communicated their dissatisfaction with McCarthy’s management to the county board, with the Corkman eventually stepping down.

And while McGrath was fully behind his teammates’ stance at the time, he now believes it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Speaking with Anthony Daly on the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast, the three-time All-Star said:

“Looking back, we felt it was the right decision. We felt the preparation, the training was nowhere near what we were used to, what we were after getting from Justin. We just felt it was gone to a stage where the relationship was nearly gone.

“We made that decision and the team, every one of us, stuck together on that. No one broke ranks and let loose what happened in that meeting. Fair credit to everyone involved. 

“But looking back now, would I do it again, I don’t think I would.

“Looking back, I'd say it was an unbelievably hard time for Justin. I remember 2016, I was managing Mount Sion senior team, and things weren’t going well, and I gave the lads the option of ‘do you want me to go or not’. I gave them a vote. It ended up I stayed. But that week was one of the hardest weeks I ever had. I was heartbroken at home.

“So I can imagine how that man felt. Sometimes, when you’re playing you don’t see that, you’re a bit selfish. You want more out of it, but the team was probably coming to its end. Looking back it wasn’t a good thing to do really. At the time I agreed, but looking back I don’t think I’d do it again.” 

Davy Fitzgerald came in and took the county to a first All-Ireland final appearance in 45 years. But McGrath admits he is still stung by the 23-point defeat by Kilkenny.

“When you’re waiting your whole career for it, to get to one, there’s the emotion, you’re on such a high. I think we just didn’t come down.

“I remember after a few minutes thinking, ‘we’re grand here’. ‘We’re not Limerick last year. We’re more experienced’. Five minutes later we were down by 10 points.

“When it got on top of you, I should have been able to deal with it 10 times better than that. I had played so many games. But when things went so wrong so early in that massive massive match, it was so hard to snap out of it. But we should have been able to do it.

“That's the biggest regret. Obviously we weren't going to win the game after that. They were better than us, they were a better team, but we should have been able to snap out of being in such a doldrum. We should have been able to get ourselves some way right, some way competitive.

“I nearly feel embarrassed to this day. How didn’t I personally deal with that game the way it was going, better than that? It’s a huge huge regret.” 

In a wide-ranging chat, McGrath discusses bouncing back from health problems — he suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2013 — and recovering from the failure of his sports shop business.

He has found contentment in family and punditry and working in his brother Eoin’s coffee business Mean Bean. And has even made peace too with that missing All-Ireland medal.

“You know when you’re after giving so much to something, and fighting so hard for it, and doing your 100% best and you didn’t win it, what can you do about it.

“At the time back then, obviously you’re devastated every year. And for the first few years after I retired it maybe got you down.

“But I know I couldn't do any more. I enjoyed all those matches I played in, even some of the defeats. They were great games.

“And maybe lads from Kilkenny would think it’s a loser mentality, I don’t know, but when I grew up in the 90s, all we wanted was to be involved in big matches.

“We were looking at all the teams, they were like fellas out of a different world to us, some of the Cork players and Tipp players and Kilkenny.

“And then Limerick made a breakthrough and ye made a breakthrough and that gave us hope. Wexford made it.

“And we were saying, why can’t we be involved in big matches instead of being a snippet in the corner of the paper, ‘Waterford beat so and so to be up in Division 1 next year’.

“We wanted to be talked about as a proper hurling team and in all fairness we did that. From ‘98 on we were at the top table, the top five or six, we didn’t win an All-Ireland, but we were up there.

“And some of the players I played with were some of the best to play the game, and great craic. We saw the world on All-Star trips and trips after winning, some of the best craic you’ll ever have.

“If someone told me when I was 16 or 17 that I’d have that in 15 years I’d have said, no bother, I’ll take it.

“Now, if you were telling me I wouldn't win an All-Ireland either, I don’t know… 

“But honestly my father played for 15, 16 years for Waterford, I think they won three championship matches. Ultimately we fell short, but it was some journey. It was unbelievable."

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