We'll just have cut at everything – McGrath
Chance to team up again with De La Salle stars of 2007 was just too tempting for new Deise boss
Published 12/02/2014 | 02:30
In the course of a very successful coaching career, Derek McGrath has never been afraid to seek counsel, share responsibility or listen.
Even the make-up of his Waterford coaching team and the diversity it has brought through the acquisition of a former All-Ireland winning Tipperary minor coach (William Maher) and a former Cork minor manager (Frank Flannery) illustrates an approach that has served him well through successful spells with college and club teams.
However, McGrath admits that, to take the Waterford job, he had to ignore an avalanche of advice telling him to be cute, hold off and bide his time.
Given the age profile of his two children, eight and six months, he acknowledges that he might have been better waiting.
But the same pioneering spirit that took De La Salle to their first Harty and Croke Cup successes as Munster and All-Ireland schools champions in 2007 – a feat they repeated 12 months later – prompted McGrath (right) to pitch for a vacancy created by the decision of the 2013 Waterford squad last September not to endorse a third year for Michael Ryan.
"The attraction really stemmed from the fact that so many people advised me not to do it. They advised me to be cute and wait three years.
"I thought that would contradict the whole ethos of honesty from management that you are looking for," says the 37-year-old De la Salle teacher.
"People view the period as being transitionary almost."
"Give it three years and the minors will be an outstanding team," he was told.
"They'll be a proper team then. Leave it off until the higher profile players come in," they advised him. McGrath covered his ears, however, and chose instead to rise to the imminent challenge.
"I think that was as much motivation as anything.
"I don't think that can be your mantra in life to be cute and waiting behind the scenes until things go awry and you can pounce when you are automatically on a winner."
He thought long and hard about letting his name go forward more than two years ago when Davy Fitzgerald stepped down.
He was 35 then and wondered if he was too young for it. His old De La Salle classmate Jason Ryan was already four years down the road with Wexford at that stage and he gave it strong consideration on that basis alone.
"I would have talked to him (Jason) about it," he recalls. "It was always my ambition the minute I gave up playing to manage a club to a county championship if I could and move on from that."
So, he has spent the last few months re-acquainting himself with many of those who broke barriers with their college almost seven years ago – Philip and Pauric Mahony, Stephen Daniels, Stephen O'Keeffe, Noel Connors, Brian O'Sullivan and Jake Dillon.
The 2013 All-Ireland-winning minor team was brimming with talent, for sure – Austin Gleeson and Stephen Bennett have been elevated to the squad, while Tom Devine is on the development squad – but, for McGrath, the opportunity to work with those former De La Salle students again just proved to be too tempting.
"It was a huge thing, not so much an emotional attachment, but the fact that so many of them had been at school and the particular age I would know them.
"Even the guys that wouldn't be involved, I would know them from that age group.
"At college level, you were striving to make a breakthrough. We had never won a Harty Cup or an All-Ireland colleges.
"It's similar in that way. The ultimate for any Waterford person is to make the breakthrough for the first time since 1959.
"With De La Salle (the club team he managed to the 2012 Waterford title), there is expectancy to win all the time, so there is less expectancy (with the county).
"There is a certain realism in Waterford. With the educated supporter, there is a realisation that it doesn't happen as easy as that. Look at Limerick U-21s (2000 to 2002).
"I was on the minor team myself in 1992 (they lost to Galway in an All-Ireland final).
"Paul Flynn and Tom Feeney were the only players who played consistently at senior level after that."
His choice of Maher as an assistant was certainly eye-catching.
A progressive coach with the Tipperary minors, he might have expected to move up the ladder in Tipp, but instead found himself being coaxed to a different county by a man who had taken an interest in his coaching career.
"I didn't work with him. We were just friendly through hurling circles. I just basically followed his career," recalls McGrath of their liaison.
"I would have spoken to him when he was involved with the Tipperary minors.
"We would just have similar ideas on the whole way a team should be treated and prepared. He's a great fella, honest, approachable and professional.
"We're happy to have him on board. It's a big one for him on Saturday."
Waterford have been favourites for the drop from Division 1A for the last two seasons, but have managed to survive.
McGrath sees nothing but a scramble over the next six weeks, starting in Thurles against Tipperary on Saturday night.
"I don't think we'll play a league match that we'll be favourites for.
"I'm not a gambling man, but we certainly won't be favourites for three away games against Tipperary, Clare and Kilkenny and we won't be favourites against Galway and Dublin at home either.
"But that brings its own enjoyment and an environment where you can just have a cut at everything."
A relatively experienced team has been named to face Tipperary without long-term injury victims Brian O'Halloran (ankle), Stephen Daniels (knee), Martin O'Neill (knee) and Richie Foley, who is recovering from hip surgery.
Stephen Molumphy is available again after missing 2013 because of army commitments abroad and played with Munster last weekend.