Friday 21 July 2017

Derek McGrath's good grace sets tone for Waterford recovery

Waterford manager Derek McGrath jumps for joy at the final whistle of Sunday’s Munster SHC clash against Clare. Photo: Sportsfile
Waterford manager Derek McGrath jumps for joy at the final whistle of Sunday’s Munster SHC clash against Clare. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

During the Easter holidays Derek McGrath took himself off to Mount Melleray in west Waterford for a few days of reflection and mindfulness.

Organised through the De La Salle College where he teaches, the retreat offered an environment to allow him to gather his thoughts.

It's something he likes to do from time to time and the calmness has served him well, perhaps even helping to shape Waterford's recovery from a harrowing League final replay defeat to an authoritative Munster semi-final victory over the same opponents.

Presented with the opportunity of the convenient scapegoat in the immediate aftermath of the replay for their failure to close out that game four weeks ago, McGrath politely declined.

Referee Diarmuid Kirwan's intervention had effectively swung the title in Clare's favour. With his decision to overlook a clear-cut free for Jamie Barron before giving Clare a much less obvious free which Tony Kelly smashed between the posts before applying the coup de grace, it teed it up high for McGrath to open his shoulders and let fly.

Resisted

Austin Gleeson’s successful sideline cut helped to stem the Clare tide. Photo: Sportsfile
Austin Gleeson’s successful sideline cut helped to stem the Clare tide. Photo: Sportsfile

But he resisted, insisting mistakes were all part of life and that they'd have to accept it.

The cup had barely been handed over to Cian Dillon and Tony Kelly but already Waterford had stolen a little march on June 5 through McGrath's good grace.

It was a clever piece of psychology not to engage the rage that was all around the county. In these pages John Mullane pulled hard with his assertion that Kirwan should even consider his future as a referee after the decision.

The following evening McGrath explained: "The longer that becomes a side issue, any sense of 'we were robbed', then it becomes a negative.

"All the time Clare are preparing and almost saying to themselves, 'hey, they're saying it was a refereeing decision, we'll show them'. It could become part of their process."

Thus, the seeds were sown for his most important victory as Waterford manager, a victory that underlined that this team is in it for the long haul.

The All-Ireland title may elude them, so too might the Munster title in five weeks' time but Thurles on Sunday has crystallised a strength of character that will sustain them in the long term.

Their reaction to the loss of a game that they were headed in for only three minutes has been very telling.

They have clearly been the better team, maybe not so much in the first League final but in the two games since. But Waterford haven't always made things easy for themselves; translation of dominance into scores has sometimes been a labour for them. This, though, felt different.

Former Waterford defender Brian Flannery was in the New Stand as Clare quietly brought a seven-point deficit back down to four before Austin Gleeson stepped up to that line-ball on that side.

"I was in the middle of a predominantly Clare section and there was a sense among them that Clare were getting back into it. David McInerney was on and they were rising to it. But Austin's strike finished it for me. There was no way there'd be a comeback this time after that," he said.

"They were just so comfortable. At no stage did I think they were in trouble."

Last year Flannery, a Mount Sion colleague of Gleeson's, wondered about his best position, offering the solution of that free role he has now created a niche for himself in.

Debate

"Mount Sion are playing Roanmore in a championship game this weekend and that debate will be had all week. The guy is just so versatile," he said.

In is somewhat ironic that for all the talk of systems and structure to Waterford's game it is a free spirit that has most captured the imagination.

"That's when he's at his best, when he's not tied, and that suits the randomness of his character," said McGrath after the Clare defeat.

The return of Pauric Mahony and the restoration of Maurice Shanahan to the lone role up front after injury provided pivotal differences, Flannery felt.

"I think we'll see Pauric influence things more and more this summer. He's our Ronan O'Gara, a 100pc man. So consistent.

"And Maurice is ideal for that role. You can hit a long ball into him knowing he will contest it and make something happen.

Flannery finds it "inconceivable" that this Waterford will not, at some stage of their careers, deliver the county's first All-Ireland title since 1959.

"I don't want to be tempting fate but I find it inconceivable," said Flannery. "They have so many players who have won big games and titles. Austin, Patrick Curran and Shane Bennett won an All-Ireland minor title, others have Croke and Harty Cup winners.

"You look at Patrick Curran and how he has developed from the skinny kid that won man of the match in that All-Ireland minor final.

"I look at a player like Shane Fives at corner-back. When I was playing Shane wouldn't be a corner-back with that skill, he'd be centre-back.

"Obviously given the history in the county, until you get over the line or win big in Croke Park at senior level there will always be that doubt. But when you look at the landscape and age profile?"

Irish Independent

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