Ken McGrath: 'I was a mile off the pace'
McGrath reveals how his body called a halt to big finale hope
Published 17/03/2011 | 05:00
When the fourth official's board flashed up in the 46th minute of last Sunday's Waterford versus Cork Allianz Hurling League tie in Dungarvan, Ken McGrath didn't have to glance a second time to spot the red No 9.
He was being summoned to the dugout, his race for the day run at a pace that left him frustrated and bewildered. It came as no surprise to him that manager Davy Fitzgerald made the change but as he headed for the sideline, he was experiencing something different to the usual feeling associated with being replaced in a routine league game.
A knowing glance and a word with his brother Eoin and it was all over.
"That's me. I'm done. It's finished."
And so, almost 15 years after playing minor, U-21 and senior championship hurling in the same month, the career of one of Waterford's greatest players had ended.
He took until Tuesday to announce his retirement, having first talked to his family while also allowing things to settle so that he was convinced he was making the right decision.
News of his departure was conveyed to his Waterford colleagues on Tuesday night and quickly spread throughout the county and beyond. John Mullane called to his house shortly after training, threw his arms around his long-time friend and colleague and declared: "It's the end of an era, boy."
So it is. But as McGrath's phone took more messages than a busy switchboard yesterday from well-wishers all over the country, he had no doubt his decision was correct.
"I was a mile off the pace last Sunday and I knew it wasn't a temporary thing. The mind was as willing as ever but the body wasn't listening. I'd be embarrassed to hang around when I couldn't play like I used to anymore -- I couldn't stay sane doing that. No, it was time to go," said McGrath (33).
Plagued by injuries for the last few years, they had cleared up by the end of last season so he decided to work really hard after Christmas in an attempt to conjure up one big finale. "That was the plan, but it wasn't working out and last Sunday confirmed that. It had been coming for a few years," he said.
He won every honour in hurling except an All-Ireland title and while that disappoints him, it by no means dominates his memories.
"An All-Ireland medal doesn't define you as a player. It's disappointing not to have won one, but I'll take the good memories with me and forget about the All-Ireland. I was lucky enough to play with a great bunch of lads who won an awful lot for Waterford. That's what I'll remember," he said.
He leaves with no grievances or bitterness and remains very positive about Waterford's future.
"A lot of fine young lads have come through and there are still plenty experienced fellas around. The mixture is right and I would love to stay part of it, but the body said halt and that's what I'm doing," he said.
He was back training with Mount Sion last night and intends to play on with the club this year. "I'll have more time to put a bit back into the club now. There's a good scene here and I'll enjoy it," he said.
He will also have more time to devote to his family and his sports shop on George's Street in Waterford city.
"I hope people keep coming in now that I'm not playing with Waterford anymore," he joked.
Chances are that they will.