'Calling us ordinary is the best compliment we could get' - Derek McGrath
Derek McGrath hails character of young stars and backs them to 'do something significant'
Derek McGrath has learned to lower the gears and speak a little slower when it comes to the subject of this Waterford team and its potential.
They've come a long way in a short space of time but constant stock-taking informs him that they still have a significant road to travel.
The best compliment they have received, he feels, is a word that was not meant to be complimentary at all.
In a recent Clare Champion interview ahead of the two League finals, former Banner centre-back Sean Stack spoke of his lack of admiration for Waterford and described many of their players as "ordinary".
"I think it's the greatest compliment you could ever have," reflected McGrath. "We took it as an absolute compliment. When a group of ordinary people or ordinary players are together and they put their mind and focus on one particular aim or one goal, they can do anything they want."
The Deise manager admits he wasn't surprised that Stack would hold such a view, pointing out that it has become a familiar theme.
Dealing with it has, McGrath suggests, become a sign of his players' growing mental strength.
"He (Stack) is entitled to his opinion and it probably followed widespread negative commentary from high-profile players. Justin (McCarthy) came out last year and gave out about how we were playing, Eddie O'Connor from Kilkenny too. We have to deal with all those things.
"We have to take a bit of pride from the lads' mental attitude that they're able to say 'hey we've had to deal with this'.
"All you need is one or two in the group saying 'we should be playing this way or we should be playing that way' and we don't have that."
He's always conscious of hearing himself talking about patience and time, hence the caution.
"I weigh it up purposely because I'm conscious of the answer again being perceived that I'm looking for more time. I think they have to have the open-mindedness along the way sometime," he said.
"We've done well, not to avoid a hammering but within our camp we treat every game like an All-Ireland final. People don't realise how hard we have to work to be where we are at the moment.
"Our preparation, motivation is like an All-Ireland final. So the sustainability of that? We'd welcome a week where they are with their clubs so that they can regroup, chill out.
"For me they need to be patient. I keep talking about ups and downs about team-building and work in progress, and people are irked by it a small bit. But that is my genuine belief, that we need to get way better to get to go to where every team wants to go.
"We need to be able to implement things on the field that will happen more fluidly. I'll reference last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. We knew what we had to do and yet we couldn't do it. (It seems) terribly amateurish from a management point of view but we just couldn't fix it."
What convinces McGrath that Waterford's future is strong is not the results they have achieved over the last 16 months but the character of the players involved. How Patrick Curran and Jamie Barron dealt with family bereavements between the drawn and replayed League finals told him everything he wanted to know.
"Patrick and Jamie went through a tough weekend, no more than Louis Mulqueen went through, and were able to come out of it very well," said the manager. "I heard Patrick being interviewed, so solid the interview, so well able to park it straight away.
"I watched Tony Kelly's display in the League final replay, I watched the players that Clare have and then I look at Patrick Curran, I look at Shane Bennett and I look at Austin Gleeson who are all U-21 and I say to myself 'have they the potential to be as good as Tony is when they are 23 or 24?'
"They have the potential, maybe it's just that he's a superstar. I think they have the potential to be very good in two or three years' time.
"And whenever I say that, it looks like you want to be there in two or three years' time. I'm not bothered about that, I'm just more interested in what they can do into the future.
"I think they can do something significant. They may do it this year or next year or it may take a couple of years but they are solid, solid fellas.
"Someone asked me the question after the drawn match about the frees, Shane (Bennett) and Patrick having problems with them. We answered the question by saying, 'we'll go with Patrick again'
"They'll have to learn, and Patrick does. He's learning fast, which suggest that he could learn again by Sunday, which would be brilliant. They're quick learners and they are able to adapt to pressurised situations, which is a good sign as well."