It was all around to Derek McGrath’s house last Tuesday evening. From 5pm to 12pm, the players, management and backroom team reminisced, drank and sang on the day after the host signed off as Waterford manager.
“We had a chap on guitar first, then a sing-song. I sang one myself. Jamie Barron and Ian Kenny were at the centre of it all. It was a good signing-off moment. It reminded us a lot of the team holiday. More relevant is the fact that every inter-county set-up put in as much as us and aren’t able to… I think Philip Mahony said to me last Sunday that he has had three pints this year. I’m not trying to promote a drinking culture but a release is good at times when it’s controlled.”
Songs played a major feature over McGrath’s five years, sung after victories or played before them on the team bus.
“Every week, we would have had a motivational video. Over the five years, we went from “This Is The Moment” or “One Moment In Time” to a Kevin Simm’s song I like, “All You Good Friends”. We were becoming over-emotively on the bus so we went with “Thunderstruck” from AC/DC and Eminem.
“Donie (Mac Murchú) and Cian (O’Halloran), the boys behind the videos, put together a montage a few weeks ago with “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, almost saying what we were about, not taking stick and warts-and-all going for it in the fashion we felt was appropriate. The lyrics of that song were apt for what we were trying to get across.”
During the week, McGrath spoke of perhaps the need for a more coercive approach from the new manager after his empathetic style.
As indelible as his association with this group of players is, the last thing he wants to do is haunt his successor.
“I worked harder in ensuring that everything was set up for the players but trying constantly to put yourself in the shoes of 50 of the group is tough.
“I think anyone who knows me would say I can be a bit cagey. People mightn’t say that when they see me all over a paper but I can be quite cagey initially. I’m not all pally-wally with the players - when I have needed to be I was and I would be straight up with them. There is an element of that.
“I’ve heard a lot about legacy and how you leave things but the greatest compliment players can pay me now is to move on and drive it on and not wallow in the disappointment. Even today, I’m not disappointed but I’m feeling it. It’s the right decision but it feels unusual.
“I would be conscious of not breaking away from the players but only stepping in when they look for advice.
“You often see in club scenarios where one man steps in and the other manager steps away and you don’t want to be that overpowering present almost in the background. When I stepped away from De La Salle, I didn’t want to be up around the field much because I didn’t want to put the next manager under pressure. I will be happy to step back. Being available to the next manager is important too not for advice but maybe for a one-off meeting.”
McGrath might tell the new man of his hopes and fears. How so much can rest on one game.
“There was a real pressure release in the Laois game in (Division) 1B in 2015. I felt the pressure in the run-up to the league in terms of the changes we made and the new positions for Jamie Barron and Michael going in the forwards. It was in Dungarvan and I remember thinking that if we were going to be beaten the pressure is really going to build. It was more a critical moment than a highlight. We had a half-back line of Austin (Gleeson), Tadhg (de Búrca) and Philip (Mahony) and we were setting out what we wanted to do. We played really well in the second half, hit the net a few times and things were really coming together.”
Another lesson McGrath will impart: How perception can be misleading.
“The reaction to the Munster final of 2016 when we were hammered by Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds. The next few days were ‘hurling should be played this way’ and it was difficult to deal with but we, as a group, agreed that we had gone away from what we were doing against Tipperary. For the Wexford game we did what we do and again there was huge criticism even though we won by 10 points. We changed it up again for Kilkenny not on the back of the criticism but we felt it was the right way to play Kilkenny.
“We met in Fota Island this year five weeks before we met Clare and we said, ‘This is how we’re going to play Clare, this is how we’re going to play against Tipperary…’. When we played the way we did against Tipperary, it was said we did so because of the injures. It was almost a parallel to how we played in the 2016 semi-final where we were told we just let the players go out and play when in fact we were really structured and organised. We don’t want recognition for that but that was the truth. It sounds self-indulgent but that was the case.”
And the final message - how it feels when everything comes together. “Coming down the stretch against Cork in the semi-final last year. At 71 minutes, we were able to say, ‘We’re here, we’re going to an All-Ireland final, players believe in this particular way of playing and it’s happening in front of us’. Cork had reduced numbers and if they hadn’t some might say it mightn’t have been the case but we felt it would have been.”
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