Derek McGrath had a number five inked on his hand for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final, the number of the suspended Tadhg de Búrca. The Irish Examiner picks out five aspects of McGrath’s character that make him stand out as a modern manager...
1. Who knew that the scribe who wrote in the Bible about prophets not being recognised in their own land knew about hurling?
Derek McGrath has taken some shellfire in the last couple of years about the famous sweeper system, with some of the more prominent gunners stationed in his own county.
Now that Waterford are in the All-Ireland final — only their second appearance since 1963, remember — McGrath would be forgiven for adopting an ‘I told you so’ stance, with smugness optional. Not the De La Salle man, however.
After Waterford beat Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final, he was at pains not to criticise TV pundits with more All-Ireland medals than him and remained focused on the next game.
2. Galway’s Joe Canning sat down for a long, terrific interview with Vincent Hogan which appeared the very weekend the Tribesmen pipped Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. Such is the level of paranoia now among many inter county managers with the media, there was widespread surprise at such a high-profile player’s openness, and shock he overcame his own honesty to hit one of the greatest match-winning scores of all time.
Earlier this year this writer approached some inter-county managers about participating in a documentary about GAA technology, GAA Nua.
Derek McGrath was the most open and accommodating, working on a very simple logical basis - that the technology and systems being used by Waterford were being used by everybody else, so what was there to hide?
Lo and behold, Waterford are now in an All-Ireland hurling final. They were unharmed by their candour and co-operation, making nonsense of some of the ‘concerns’ expressed about being on television. A lesson there? You’d hope so.
3. Austin Gleeson’s talent is not in doubt. Neither is his youth. Collecting both Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year awards before graduating from the U21 ranks was simultaneously a huge achievement and a massive burden for the following season.
McGrath’s management of Gleeson this year has been terrific, sparing him some of the drudgery — and spotlight — of the early rounds of the national league. Gleeson’s form has been on a rising graph, easing him to a level of performance we saw last Sunday. Any manager will tell you this kind of player wrangling is harder than it appears.
4. Any man who’ll quote Harper Lee is alright in this corner of the newspaper. McGrath’s day job as an English teacher has speckled many of his interviews with names that go far beyond the usual frame of references.
On the other hand, after one game earlier this year he referred to reading a newspaper article and spending a lot of time looking for the point the writer was trying to make. There were a lot of journalists studying their footwear at that stage of the discussion.
5. For many years now Waterford have been many hurling supporters’ ‘second’ team, a side to be followed when their own goes out of the championship.
Part of that has been a long-standing commitment to and involvement in local causes, whether it’s university status for WIT or the need for cardiac care services in the southeast.
McGrath has maintained that commitment and involvement - take the ‘hand on heart’ campaign which came to the fore during this year’s national league — and has kept his players not just rooted in their community, but helping that community with serious issues from the field of play.
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