School's out for McGrath ahead of Déise tests
Derek McGrath remembers reading a newspaper article on Liam Sheedy's departure as Tipperary hurling manager in 2010, weeks after their All-Ireland triumph, where a 40-hour week devoted to hurling was cited.
His initial thought was doubt. How could it involve that much? How could it eat into so much of his time? Now into a fourth year as Waterford hurling manager, however, McGrath needs no convincing of Sheedy's diary any more.
So much so that he has extended parental leave and will not now return to his teaching position in Waterford city's De La Salle school until September.
It's a huge lifestyle choice but one he felt he had to make.
"When you were looking at it from the outside at that stage you were questioning is there that amount of time involved, is it that consuming," he said of Sheedy's devotion to time. "But I think that's the way it's gone. It's trying to deal with it in a manner that does consume your whole life, that's hard."
Teaching was always thought to be the most compatible career with inter-county management but McGrath's 'clearing of the decks' for the rest of the hurling season is, he believes, the fairest thing on his pupils, his family and his hurling squad.
"The sustainability of working and managing, I find it hard. Now, people say you're in the ideal job for it.
"It depends on your own personality. I have found it difficult not to be all or nothing in teaching, and not all or nothing in management. I would find it difficult to do the two. Margaret Betts, the principal, has been brilliant to me," he explained.
With trademark honesty, McGrath felt he wasn't at his best in the classroom when hurling kicked in.
"I just found I wasn't committed to the teaching as I should have been, whilst I was in class. I know I could be vilified for that, or I could be in trouble for saying that. So I felt the best scenario for me at the moment is just to be concentrating on the hurling. One thing I would say is I'm kind of an obsessive character, I'd be thinking about hurling whether I'm involved in it or not.
"First thing in the morning I tend to think about it. I suppose it's transmitting that obsessive nature to your players, without it becoming all about you. That's the key thing.
"I've just become so consumed by it that maybe it's just the way I'm going to do it for now. Maybe I'll learn into the future a different way of doing it."
With no Leaving Cert class this year McGrath admits his "conscience" is clearer than it might have been otherwise.
The move prompts the obvious question as to whether he would support the concept of full-time managers in the inter-county game but real clarity around expenses is what he would prefer to see most.
McGrath's decision to set aside his teaching career in the short term mirrors how many players are allowing hurling to dictate their own career paths.
Waterford have 14 teachers or students engaged in teacher training on their squad and many have made that choice to facilitate their hurling.
"Most of them are saying it's the only thing I'm interested in doing because it frees you up for the summer," he said.
"The fellas that are doing business degrees will end up doing the HDip as well, that's the feeling I get from them.
"I think it's their decision that suits their hurling career. A lot of it is the old-fashioned attitude of having June, July and August off. It's a big advantage to their life development, never mind hurling. It gives you an opportunity to maybe pursue a hurling career and do a bit of travelling as well."
In light of his own decision and those career paths that so many young hurlers are taking McGrath believes there is no clawing back the investment of time devoted to the game.
He also feels a cap on the amount of money teams are permitted to spend on preparation is counter-productive.
"It's very hard because the marketability of each different team and the links to the success or progress of the different teams.
"I can see how marketable Dublin are, or even ourselves as a young emerging team if you like, that we're probably a marketable quantity now whereas we wouldn't have been a couple of years ago. It's very difficult to equate all the finances and say, 'We're going to have a general cut-off from now on, hurling spend has to be €250,000 a year for each team'. Because then I think there'll be more black market activity or there'll be more donations, there'll be more political manoeuvrings behind the scenes.
"I think the modern player is coming from a background where he's thinking more. He's learning more and, to me, that'll drive up the expectation levels on management because they'll be expected to come with the next novel idea or the next... that's not stripping away the basic principles of what applies to any management, the whole honesty and integrity and all the principles that apply to any team.
"But I think, not that players are getting more demanding, but there's certainly an emphasis on finding the next kind of angle.
"Personally, I don't think there's a way back. I think there'll be a concerted effort by the GAA, not to cap it, but to not leave it go too far. I don't think there'll be year after year where it's up by hundreds of thousands. It's reaching its saturation point soon in terms of where it's going."
What McGrath does see changing is the structure of the competitions and he believes integration of league and championship could be the best model, similar to how the Waterford championship operates with two groups of six and subsequent play-offs. McGrath would support Tony Kelly's view that the provincial championships should be sacrificed if it leads to a better structure.
"There is a time when you listen to the likes of Tony Kelly when he came up with his idea a few weeks ago, I've seen Richie Hogan promoting it (too).
"Sometimes we are too slow to react to what players want. Right, they shouldn't dictate but still they know what they want.
"I actually think that's in tandem with what the public want as well - they want games in that summer period that are hugely exciting.
"Maybe I'm too negative but, take the worst-case scenario for us, losing two championship games (back-to-back). I'm only giving a worst-case scenario now. But if you had the championship-like fervour attached to the league section come championship at the right time of the year, I think it would revolutionise the whole thing.
"I'd mix the teams, the two sixes that I'm talking about in the league, I'd have the top four in either get through to quarter-finals for the All-Ireland championship - the top four of either group."
McGrath has confirmed that Jamie Barron will miss the next two matches because of cracked ribs sustained in the recent defeat to Cork but Brian O'Halloran has recovered after sustaining a blow at the end of that match.
Derek McGrath was speaking at the launch of the KN-sponsored All-Ireland GAA golf challenge which will take place at the Gold Coast Hotel and Golf Resort and Dungarvan Golf Club on September 8/9. The Michaela Foundation, established to commemorate the memory of Michaela Harte, will be one of the charities to benefit from this year's event. See www.gaagolf.com for more information.