And so begins Derek McGrath’s fifth year as Waterford senior hurling manager, a fact the man himself probably hadn’t reckoned on this time last year, let alone when he initially succeeded Michael Ryan in the Deise hot seat.
“Yeah, you’re right – you’re dead right,” the De La Salle clubman conceded when speaking to this newspaper at the WLR/Granville Hotel Awards on Saturday last (See Print Edition Sport 6 and 7 for more).
“I’m into my fifth year now and there’s a certain freedom in that given that we’re signed up for 2018 and all of us on the management team are just going to enjoy it as much as possible. We had a very good team meeting on Tuesday night and (selector) Eoin Murphy spoke about a friend of his wife’s who had received some terrible news in relation to cancer and had subsequently died on the Wednesday and the message Eoin was relaying to us was based on confidence not waning or dipping because we know we are giving it our best. Now that might sound a little over the top but that same message was imparted tonight by all of the players who were interviewed. We’re giving it our best, but there’s a realisation that even your best might not be good enough.”
Derek McGrath continued: “But we can live and find solace in the knowledge that we are giving it our absolute best and that will be the case next Saturday against Wexford and the following Saturday in Thurles.
The reality is, and what might not be taken into account, is that some of the guys who may be asked to play next Sunday will have played for UCC versus CIT on Thursday night, for DCU against LIT (on Sunday last) and subsequently on Wednesday and then play the following Sunday. We live in a long-term world and when we say these things it’s look like we’re making excuses against the League format or otherwise but we have to take the proper stance for our players on that and we will do that where possible. But we’re just going to enjoy every minute of this, because it has to be enjoyable and we have to keep some sense of the homecoming crowd that night last September and bringing them with us for a period of it as well yet allowing for them to have implicit in their mindset the whole idea that there’ll be difficult days as well. But we’re going to enjoy it, certainly as management and players and 2018 is going to be a very enjoyable year for us, regardless of results. We’re just going to really, really, for it.”
As for the earlier start to the League, and the undeniable reality of heavy pitches, the Deise manager struck a typically stoical note. “Sure we just have to take it. It’s probably the compromise based on the new format for the Championship but it’s the same for every team really, I suppose. The pre-League competitions and the benefits of those competitions in terms of Limerick beating Clare in the Munster League and Wexford beating Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup will probably be seen in the League. But look, we’ll take what we got at the end of last year bar the (All-Ireland Final) defeat in terms of having a team holiday, etc as against the Munster League or Walsh Cup and so on. But we’ll see. We probably haven’t as much done as the other teams but we’re not using that an excuse either. We’ll be giving it our best against Wexford on Sunday next.”
Wexford will travel to Walsh Park, buoyed by a third successive win over Kilkenny and securing their first Walsh Cup success since 2002, on the back of last season’s promotion and run to the All-Ireland Quarter-Final. No doubt they’ll bring a fine following across the Barrow and Suir and ought to make for incredibly sticky opposition on what may well prove an incredibly sticky pitch.
“I was in Nowlan Park today and there were four thousand people there, who generated a fantastic atmosphere, and Wexford had a huge contingent of support following them and they look like a team really prepped for the League and really hardened; the intensity of the match today was, I wouldn’t say it was frightening, it was almost like Championship pace at times so that’s the worrying aspect from our point of view in terms of only having a few challenge matches under our belt but we’ll see. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the stage that we can take things for granted if you like and when it comes to our preparation, while we would be a little bit worried, and we’re not going to be making excuses, that’s still a reality, but we’ll be giving it our best for what we’re able to give at this time of the year.”
Photos by Noel Browne