Derek McGrath wore the look of a man who’d made every hook, block, shot and save in the 76 minutes of breathless hurling that had concluded only minutes earlier.
A best Championship display against Tipperary in a decade failed to yield that elusive summer win over the Premier, as Waterford saw a 12-point lead evaporate in the closing 20 minutes at the Gaelic Grounds, aided, from a Tipperary perspective, by the awarding of a goal which never was.
“The impression was (during the week) that we were dead and buried,” said the Deise boss as all and sundry attempted to digest another extraordinary Munster Championship battle. “I don’t think we’ve gone into too many matches over the last five years as 6/1 outsiders so I think there was a pleasing quality to the performance, I think there was a pleasing quality to our play and I’d like to commend the heroic nature of both Austin (Gleeson) and Pauric (Mahony’s) decision to play today, albeit it was our decision. One was playing for the first time in the Clare match in the League and Pauric was playing with a broken bone in his hand and I’d just like to commend that bravery and that honesty and that unity of the group which we’ve always espoused. Even in the midst of tough times, we’ve always said that we’re a very unified group, which we are and which we will continue to be right to the end, so that was pleasing. But, as I said, when you have a knife at someone’s throat, you have to twist it and we didn’t, unfortunately.”
Momentum shifts, the Waterford manager contended, proved particularly significant during a second half which oozed drama, “decisions or otherwise (can) act as a catalyst for change in a game and that’s what probably what happened there”. Ronan Maher’s 73rd minute point, which left the minimum separating the sides, had been initially waved wide, but referee Alan Kelly over-ruled his umpires to award a vital white flagger to a Tipperary side which refuses to acknowledge surrender. Had Derek any view of it, literally or otherwise?
“Well the one thing I will say is that Alan Kelly had the best view of it; I think he was right behind it and I think he was fairly adamant that he was correcting (the umpires’ decision) straight away which wasn’t a good sign for us and a good sign in terms of the corrective process – he was straight on that which suggests that, as I said, the correct decision was made.”
And what of that second half effort by Austin Gleeson under the lip of the Mackey Stand, which both Derek and Dan Shanahan immediately appeared to suggest was between the uprights as opposed to wide of Brian Hogan’s left-hand upright?
“Look, it was one of those ones which I’d call in school that go wide before they go over or they go over and then they go wide. We felt it was on its way wide and crept in at the last minute – that was our feeling – but I’ll leave the experts debate all these things. We’ve a point on the board. If we get two wins, I don’t know am I right in saying it, but we’d be in a Munster Final if we get five points – I could be wrong in saying that or overdramatic – but we’re going to take the positives out of it. Our season was a write-off; we were 20/1 to win the Munster Championship yesterday, but I’ll ask the question: if Clare hadn’t Brian Lohan or Seanie McMahon or Anthony Daly, would they be competitive in a Munster Championship? If Cork hadn’t John Gardiner or Sean Óg or Diarmuid O’Sullivan, would they have been competitive in a Championship? I think people will see, over time, the value of Barry Coughlan, of Tadhg de Burca, of Darragh Fives and the value of Kevin Moran. It was a proud, reactive performance and it’s important to build on it now.”
And what about goal line technology, which may well prove a huge talking point come the FIFA World Cup in Russia: should it be deployed across the board in both the Hurling and Football Championships? “I’m not sure,” said Derek McGrath. “Was it Timmy Murphy got the goal for Tipperary years ago against Kerry where (the ball) bounced off the stanchion and there was a big debate after it? Like ourselves in management, if we continue to get too technical, there’ll be no natural emotive reaction to anything. We’ll just take it on the chin now like we’ve done with every other decision and move on. In terms of the debate around technology, I think hurling is the one game, perhaps contradictorily that doesn’t need technology, albeit Hawkeye (is helpful) in cut-throat decisions, so I’m after contradicting myself there, I suppose. But I wouldn’t like to see it in every venue in Ireland. I think it would take away from the flow of a game. Mistakes are part of the game. I think we make enough of them on the line and make enough of them on the field…we’d have two points on the board today if the goal wasn’t allowed but I haven’t seen it to suggest or to say with any definite stance that we were robbed or otherwise but I wouldn’t say that anyway.”
Of course, the argument that Waterford ought to have been home and hosed going down the stretch could also be made with much legitimacy, to which McGrath replied: “I do, I do to be honest, but I will make the point that the goal almost acted as a catalyst for Tipp to come then – the Bonner Maher goal as well as the other goal – it was like something that perhaps they needed, that little slice of luck and it’s often you’d look back on those decisions at the end of the year, you know. Tipp are still there, they’re still strong and that sextet of forwards take some holding.”
When put to him that there was a freshness in terms of Waterford’s approach on Sunday, the Deise boss contended: “We played the same way in the League and we played exactly the same way- you mightn’t think we did – but we simulated exactly the same way, with Austin at centre-back; Mikey Kearney and Patrick Curran played that night too in the same type of system which allowed us to be fairly congested and fairly offensive as well.”
As for how Waterford will set up against Limerick on Sunday next, Derek, allowing a smile to break across his face, concluded: “We’ll see. You can decide that yourselves next week!”