History, even if it remains, as Derek McGrath put it, “a huge disappointment” for his youthful Deise panel, fresh from a productive five-day training camp in Fota.
“To me, it almost sets up next Sunday’s game as a harder one to win because of being six points up in the (League Final) replay and, I suppose, the way we lost it in the end, there might be a perception out there that we might have had the measure of Clare,” said the De La Salle clubman on Sunday night.
“And while every now and then having a motivation based on some form of revenge mightn’t be a bad thing and could be used to gee the lads up for this match, there’s been no real notion of that being a factor for us ahead of Sunday, I have to say.”
The benefit of time also brings with it the benefit of a more mature and slightly less emotive reflection on the manner of that defeat to Clare. Last minute free or no last minute free, Waterford had been six points clear of the Banner men but didn’t make Davy Fitz’s side tap out. Wasn’t that a more pertinent point than that last gasp winner from Tony Kelly?
“On reflection, it probably is, but it still doesn’t mean that we were the better team even though we lost the game; it was just the way the game materialised on that given day, it was just the way it went. There was never a sense of closure during that match.”
Despite the defeat, there’s a good argument to be made that the League Final replay represented Waterford’s best performance of the campaign: defensively resolute for most of the 70 minutes, with deep runners attacking the space in Clare’s defence.
Waterford carried a threat against Clare that hadn’t as readily materialised against the other big hitters they’d encountered during the League, and that bodes well given the improved fitness of Maurice Shanahan, Paraic Mahony and Stephen Bennett.
Derek McGrath added: “There are arguments to be made about a few other performances. I feel. If we’d converted the chances against Kilkenny in the first round of the League, then you think how we played in the second half against Limerick and that middle 20 minutes against Cork: if you combined all those and periods of the game against Galway when there was a bit more freedom in how we played, we’ve had good phases of play in most of our games so far.
“But there was a bit of solace in defeat given how well we had played against Clare, not that we’re interested in glorious defeats or anything like that, but there was solace to be taken from the fact that both ourselves and Clare had escaped the negativity of the previous week, and that wasn’t really down to a major tactical shift, I felt. It was down to the players implementing what they believed in themselves, because we’ve got to allow for that sense of freedom for the players within the way we play…but it was completely different game from the previous Sunday. And I suspect next Sunday’s match will again take on a life of its own, with both teams laying absolutely everything on the line.”
Both teams have, with some justification, been touted as potential All-Ireland finalists. Even champions.
But all Derek McGrath is occupying himself with is the here and now. His team’s immediate destiny. What’s directly in front of him. A Munster semi-final, progression from which shall deliver another final showpiece, along with a place in the All-Ireland Series.
“We want the lads to be free, not angry as such, but with a sense of freedom out on the field and to play with a sense of randomness, that’s what tends to happen in Championship hurling,” the manager continued.
“I was doing a bit of Féile business with the GAA President (in Waterford) last week, and he was speaking about Sunday as the third match of a hurling trilogy, and I think that’s brilliant in terms of adding to the build-up to the match.
“I wouldn’t go as far as describing next Sunday as a gladiatorial battle, but it does seem to have an edge to it. Now sometimes when that edge is spoken of beforehand, the game can end up being a damp squib, but I feel it’s going to be a good game and I think that’ll be welcomed by everyone. It’s great for hurling.”
There’s intrigue aplenty about potential match-ups next Sunday, and what both managers may do from a ‘stick or twist’ perspective.
And with Paraic Mahony’s fitness building by the week, and the prospect of producing Stephen Bennett from a bench that, more often that not, has positively impacted on proceedings, McGrath’s hand has undoubtedly been strengthened.
“That’s the debate facing us this week,” said the Deise boss when addressing the ‘stick or twist’ dimension he’ll ruminate over with his management team this week. “That’s the big one for us now…
“When we drew with Cork, when Austin (Gleeson) and Tadhg (de Búrca) made their Championship debuts, we had a lot of players available to us; some were coming back from suspension, a few more from injuries and we changed things. But we got a little caught up in thinking that way, with the benefit of hindsight, but I’m not sure about how we’ll approach next Sunday. We’ve been hither and thither, over and back on it over the last 10 days, but we’re nearly there now at this stage.”
McGrath spoke of Clare possessing plans A, B and C, and then referred to the need to work all the way down to plan E with his own players. And one suspects that the training camp at Fota proved a great help in that regard. “We got a lot of quality work done down there, played Limerick in a challenge game and I really hope the benefit of that week will play out next Sunday. I’m very proud of the lads. They all took four to five days out of work, with no remuneration and looked for nothing.
“When you take someone like the Brick (Michael Walsh), with three young kids under four at home, to be down there for the week, from Tuesday to Sunday and leading the charge, rooming with Austin and Shane Bennett, keeping the two young lads on their toes, to see the way these guys interact with each other has been a pleasure to watch.
“They have the craic, which is vital for any panel, but they work incredibly hard too, and I do feel it’s important for the lads that we help create some memories for these players during their inter-county careers – that’s got to be part of it too.”
One suspects there’ll be a few butterflies fluttering in the McGrath household this week. He’s been a fan and hurling man since well before he managed his first team, as he will be well after he’s done with the gig. Here we go. Sunday next. The real stuff starts now.
“The sun will rise either way next Monday morning,” he proffered stoically. “We’ll either be dejected or absolutely elated but that’s the nature of it. I’m very excited about it, we all are, we’re living for it because when you go to war with your friends, you shouldn’t be nervous about it for any reason because you know everyone will lay everything on the line for each other…I sense a Munster Final type atmosphere about next Sunday’s match and I hope the lads will embrace it. Just let them out and let them play and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
Cry havoc. And let loose.