Even for a man as quoteworthy as McGrath is, he’ll not articulate that sense of self-generated pressure to a fourth estater at the opposite end of a phone line, eight days on from defeat to Cork, a match he’s watched “five or six times” in the interim. But it’s got to be there.
For a man determined to guide this Waterford team to heights not scaled since Sean Lemass succeeded Eamon De Valera as Taoiseach, if that internal pressure wasn’t cranked all the way up, I doubt if he’d still be in the job. Pressure, like criticism, shouldn’t always be viewed through a negative prism.
As for the excessive, hyperbolic commentary, predominantly the preserve of the keyboard warrior set, is best ignored or considered as largely invalid as the treatise provided by the lad at the end of the bar who sacrificed dinner for a diet of large bottles.
But nonetheless, the question still had to be asked: does he feel in any way backed into a corner in the wake of the Munster Semi-Final defeat to Cork?
“No I don’t,” he replies without any hesitation. “Not at all, to be honest. Pressure and stress, for me, means having a family member in hospital. I can’t relate that feeling, and we all have that feeling at different times in our lives, to how I felt after the Cork match. Those two particular scenarios simply don’t correspond and I’d never relate one to the other.”
The Deise manager added: “You could choose to wallow and focus on what I’d describe as the demons of bitterness after matches that don’t work out the way you’d want them to, and I spent a good deal of my first year as manager dwelling on those thoughts, too much time when I look back on it now, I have to say…
“My mother tells me to say a few prayers for anyone who maybe gets a little over-excited in what they say after a match, and it’s not a bad way of dealing with it at all. But was I hurting after the Cork match? One hundred per cent. Do I wish it had gone differently for us? One hundred per cent. I’m a Waterford man managing my own county. This job, this team and this county, mean a great deal to me, and I want the players I’ve the pleasure of working with to do as well as they possibly can and make themselves, their families, their clubs and everyone following the group as proud as possible. Every time we leave that dressing room, we want to come back in at full-time knowing we’ll have done everything possible to achieve the desired result. Yes, things didn’t go well for us against Cork, a team who beat us by five points and beat the All-Ireland champions by four points in the previous match. And if a penalty decision had gone our way with seven, eight minutes to go, and had we scored it, the gap would have been down to a point in a match which, by that stage, we probably should have been out of. We were still there at that stage in the game, and while we know we didn’t perform against, admittedly, a very good Cork team, a team I’ve been championing for quite some time, we were still there by then, which says a lot, I think, for the attitude of the players we have. But that game is behind us now; we certainly haven’t forgotten about it in terms of what we need to put right against Offaly, but what we need to do against Offaly, just as we’d have to have done whoever we were drawn against this (Monday) morning, is to be at our very best. A home draw would have welcome, of course it would, but we know what’s ahead of us now and we have to do all we can to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind to go out and, first of all, produce a performance.”
Waterford are raging favourites to progress against the side managed by fellow Deiseman Kevin Ryan, but Derek McGrath, as one would expect, will be giving that zero consideration this week.
“I’m thinking no further than Saturday,” he stated. “I must have got 20 or so texts this morning telling me we were after getting a handy draw. Look, I only have to back two or so years to the League match in Tullamore where, personnel wise you had moreorless the same two teams playing each other, and we were seven points down in the first half and finding the going very tough. Thankfully, Shane Bennett got a goal for us just before half-time and we did end up turning around to win (by seven points) on a very windy afternoon at O’Connor Park. We can’t take anything for granted, nor should we. Offaly at home will not want to produce anything other than their best in front of their own supporters, and that’s why we will have to produce our best, because I don’t believe anything else will do for us.”
Admitting it was a case of taking the Cork defeat “on the chin”, Derek McGrath added there had been “no meeting or anything additional” in terms of an internal management/panel review in the wake of the Thurles reversal.
“Losing to Cork wasn’t cataclysmic. It was disappointing and we know we’re capable of so much more than what we produced on the day. We lost eight or nine key battles over the 70 minutes and if you lose that many battles, then it makes it very, very hard to ultimately push on and win the match. We know what we need to do but we also know how tough Offaly can make it for Waterford teams, going back to the League two years ago and the qualifier in 2013 in O’Connor Park. We have to go out and produce a performance, it’s as simple as that.”