Thursday 22 March 2018

'Derek will go to the ends of the earth for a player'

Latecomer Murphy enjoying selector role with All-Ireland finalists

Waterford selector Eoin Murphy has hailed the work done by manager Derek McGrath. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Waterford selector Eoin Murphy has hailed the work done by manager Derek McGrath. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Waterford were billeted in the Fota Island resort for a weekend camp just a few weeks out from the Munster championship Eoin Murphy, living in nearby Midleton, decided to drop down to say hello to a few old colleagues, Dan Shanahan and Michael 'Brick' Walsh especially.

While chatting with Shanahan, Derek McGrath joined them.

By then McGrath and Shanahan were the only 'official' members of the management team, following the departure of Philip Murphy, Fintan O'Connor's replacement, in March.

McGrath had been on the lookout since the end of the previous year's championship and after Murphy's snap departure during the league.

Waterford manager Derek McGrath, right, and selector Eoin Murphy. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Waterford manager Derek McGrath, right, and selector Eoin Murphy. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"He was kind of messing at one stage saying, 'you'd look nice with a bib on you!'. But he didn't make any approach," recalled Murphy.

Two weeks later though the call did come and Murphy didn't take long to accept. It wasn't until after the provincial defeat to Cork that the official seal - Fergal Hartley was also installed as an adviser - was delivered.


"It was like the stars aligned. I hadn't gone back with my club (Shamrocks) this year and had actually taken a break from hurling for about five or six months just to do some other things that I'm interested in and to spend time with family," he recalled.

"When the message came through my eyes lit up. I wanted this, I just had to speak to Leona (wife) about it."

Murphy's remit from McGrath wasn't specific.

"He wanted me to come in and have a look from my own perspective, to see what I thought and be a kind of a sounding board for him and for Dan as well.

"I suppose I played a lot of my days in defence so maybe I could relate to the backs a little bit more than the forwards. Dan played in the forwards so maybe there was a bit of a balance there.

"But across the board, I just came in and watched and maybe saw a few little things and picked up on them. Small things like attitude at training and talking to players - I'm kind of happy in that mode, encouraging players.

"I suppose I'm more of a deep thinker than a swashbuckling, jumping up and down kind of person. I don't get too excited. Maybe that's a nice balance. Dan is the runner so he's trying to get in and out with messages. And Derek himself is in the middle of it obviously and he can get into the heat of it. He's manager, he's head of the whole group. He can get caught in the moment. So I like to be able to sit back and analyse the moment and he likes to come back to me and just use me as a sounding board."

What struck him most, not that he is really surprised at it, is the investment of time that McGrath and Shanahan continue to make into a fourth year."

McGrath, says Murphy, "lives, breathes and eats the job" stating how he has developed a culture of humility among his players.

"He's 110 per cent thrown into it. He will do whatever he can to get the most out of the group and the players. He will drive to the ends of the earth for a player.

"If one of them asks him to do something, if they need something done in college or if they want a helping hand with career advice, he's straight in going, 'I'll do it. I'll go up with you.'

"It doesn't matter what it is, if they have a problem or if they have an issue, he always says, 'I'll sort that.' That's just the way he is. He'll drive up to the end of the county if a couple of them are meeting for lunch and he'll buy them lunch and head away again. This is what he does.

"He's not motivated by money or ego or himself. It's just for the group. He's just trying to set a culture of 'work hard and you'll get your rewards, keep the head down and always be humble and be grateful for what we have.'

"He's just a fantastic guy. Even in his speeches, he'll relate to something that's going on in the world. People who have serious worries, be it what's after happening in Barcelona or whatever. We're in a situation with sport at the end of the day where we're privileged to be going up to an All-Ireland final representing our clubs and our families and our county. This is what he instils in the group, humility in front of the supporters and the people who travel to see us. It's a nice culture to have around the group," observed Murphy.

"He loves being around the players. When they go for recovery maybe on a Monday, he'll go and join them for it. It's kind of peer to peer, even though he is their manager at the end of the day. I would argue that he's happier amongst his players than he is amongst us or around the county board or dealing with other stuff that he has to deal with."

Murphy's own inter-county career ended after he sustained a fractured skull in a 2011 club match.

"I was a very lucky boy. The helmet saved my life. I still have a little indentation there on the side of my temple. If I ever lose my hair you'll be able to see it. I was lucky, very, very lucky. Thanks to the medical personnel in Waterford and Cork. It just healed - they didn't have to intervene or operate.

"It was a freak accident, just one of those things. Bad timing. But at the time, it was a weird sensation. Now I know what it was - there were bones breaking and there was a bit of bleeding on the brain. But thankfully everything settled down and it just healed itself."

Three years earlier he had featured at corner-back for the 2008 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny and recently related his experience to the players as they got their preparations for Sunday under way.

"The best three weeks of my life followed by the worst six. I dreamed of playing in an All-Ireland final for so long as a young fella, just not that one. That one never came into my dreams. That was a nightmare."

At what stage had it hit him that it was gone? "The second goal. Or maybe the third goal! They totally hit the ground running and we just met a storm on the day. They went for it and they just put us away. It was like dominoes for the whole group - you just flick them and they're gone."

He describes an All-Ireland final day like wedding day preparations. "All the preparation that goes into it, before you know it, it's over. It's gone like that.

"But I believe this group is a new Waterford. The culture is probably a bit different, they're a different set of players. They're grounded and they're able to deal with whatever is thrown at them. The challenge for us as management is to try and keep the focus on the match.

"We went all in up to the match in O'Connor Park in Tullamore against Offaly in the first qualifier. We're now going all in again in another park, it just happens to be Croke Park."

Irish Independent

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