Noel Connors accepts Waterford may have been playing for Derek McGrath’s future as manager in their second round qualifier against Kilkenny last Saturday week.
Little has changed on that count as they face into Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Wexford and Connors, who was vocal in his defence of his manager following the game, agrees it might have been a subconscious motivation for the players to do their bit in keeping McGrath at the helm by defeating the Cats.
“Yeah, perhaps we were. Not that we would let that affect us but maybe it was something that psychologically we had in the back of our minds. The Waterford public always want to see you in finals and semi-finals but unfortunately, it is a very, very competitive championship.
Maybe Derek’s position would have been questioned again (had we lost) but we think and we know that he is the best person for the job.”
McGrath suffered the brunt of the criticism in the wake of the Cork defeat but some of the players, the older ones like Connors, didn’t escape it either. “I think in Waterford we can be our own worst critics. There is a massive expectation in Waterford that we are always going to be successful and always going to be winning, and unfortunately, you have to be very honest and realistic about it.
“There is only going to be one team that is going to win the All-Ireland every year and the hurling championship is incredibly competitive and any of the six teams can win it. And if you take into account teams like Kilkenny, Dublin and Limerick are not even in the latter stages of the championship and they could just as easily win it.
“Derek came in for a lot of criticism. I think we as a team came in for a lot of criticism after the game. People were perhaps suggesting that Derek’s tenure should be looked at. And that a lot of the players, senior players including myself, were perhaps a small bit gone past it. As a team, we used that and fuelled ourselves through that emotion to give back to Derek.
“I think our motivation as a team was Derek and what he has done for us in the last three or four years, considering we were in a relatively poor position when he took over. Alot of people would have left the panel and retired, where he has brought us to has been absolutely phenomenal.”
Once again, the Passage man sees himself conspiring against former manager Davy Fitzgerald, who was an integral figure in his development as an inter-county player. “I get on really well with Davy. He gave me my championship debut in 2009 against Limerick, marking Andrew O’Shaughnessy.
“In fairness he brought a lot of our lads through, the likes of Maurice (Shanahan), Pauric Mahony, all of these lads came through as a result of Davy. He was all about bringing youth, bringing energy to it.”
His Wexford side, Connors theorises, are a different prospect from the one Waterford defeated at the same stage last year. They’ve been just a force of nature this year as a result of Davy going in there. They’ve been incredibly consistent . They’ve been very good at the league, the Leinster championship, the last couple of years at U21 they’ve been phenomenal.”
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