Saturday 15 December 2018

'He could go off and have a statue to him in Stradbally... He's never afraid to go for it again and hang it all out there'

Derek McGrath believes Austin Gleeson has been overly critically of his 2017 performances Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath believes Austin Gleeson has been overly critically of his 2017 performances Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Derek McGrath was weighing up his future as Waterford hurling manager in the two months after last year's All-Ireland hurling final defeat to Galway, Michael 'Brick' Walsh flashed across his mind quite a few times.

There was no conversation between them from the Tuesday night after the final, when the team gathered in Dungarvan with their families, to the night of the PwC All-Star banquet, where 'Brick' picked up a fourth award. Just a few text messages were exchanged.

To describe the 34-year-old as a direct influencer in McGrath's decision to extend his time in charge for a fifth year would be a little misleading. But his attitude and reputation certainly helped to "shape" it, according to McGrath.

"He lives in a world where he's never afraid to fail. He could go off and have a statue to him in Stradbally, based on winning an All-Star. He's never afraid to go for it again and hang it all out there.

"He didn't have an influence on me. But he'd shape your outlook in terms of being able to look the boys in the eye.

"You'd learn from how he thinks. There's a bit of selfishness in all of us but his selflessness is a starting point for all of us, for myself as well. I was saying 'you have to go again.' And the players kind of came to (me and said), 'give it another go'.

Brick Walsh
Brick Walsh

"History will show that we've never been in back-to-back finals. So there's a certain solace in knowing that if you give it everything you have and you're not afraid to fail, we'll be alright.

"So you could kind of say 'give it a year and give it everything we have and see where it takes us and not be too serious about it.'"

Twelve months ago McGrath was preparing a season that he was sure would be his last. Parental leave from the school where he teaches, De La Salle, allowed him take time off until the summer holidays, as every effort was expended into preparing the team.

That's the difficulty with it. I had my mind (made up). I didn't want the swansong to be the All-Ireland final. You worry about perception sometimes, plus there's a huge connection between the players and management team.

"The perception is 'I wonder is that the end of a journey where everyone has given everything and there is a need to move on.'

"But I don't think you can react to what other people think the need should be, if your gut is to still give it another go.

"The group, bar Shane (Bennett), is in tact at the moment.

"In terms of looking for possible signs whereby 'I wonder is everything not running smoothly in Waterford', based on me taking time making the decision, I think that's just me taking time and ensuring that the players are managed well enough, as well (being able) to live Christmas and enjoy it. And that has been evident in our approach for November, December and the end of January."

For the first time, they didn't train on Christmas morning with an imminent trip to New York and Cancun, where they met with their All-Ireland final conquerors Galway. And the "narrative," around their Allianz league challenge, he feels has changed, the pressure to survive won't be as intense.

"I remember down in Clare last year, feeling under genuine pressure to get the points down in Ennis that would stave off a relegation dogfight. I think I am over that, in terms of our approach.

"It is not about gathering points," he stated. "It is about going out next Sunday, giving everything we have and seeing where it takes us.

"I don't think the whole psychological scar of being in a relegation play-off would be a scar as it was in year one. If we were to under-perform in the Championship because we got relegated, it wouldn't be because of that, it would be because we under-performed.

"We can live with, as a squad, just getting the best out of ourselves every week because the intensity levels of the Walsh Cup final last Saturday would clearly show you that Wexford are prepped, mentally and physically, for the league. There are absolutely in a good place."

He knows they can never be casual in their approach.

"I don't think we can ever 'swan' as a team. I don't think we can ever not have that ordinariness of approach because when we do, not that we're not good enough, but I don't think it suits us and I think that's important to bear in mind.

Getting the balance between some confidence being picked (up) from being in an All-Ireland final and still remaining raw for the league approach is important."

McGrath believes Austin Gleeson is being hard on himself if he felt he under-performed in 2017 because of the weight of the 'hurler of the year' title while still 21.

"If you look back, Austin played not a huge amount of league time. We tried to manage that whole expectation that we knew would come. You look back at the Championship we played, on June 18 (against Cork) we were all very disappointed with how we did that day, management included.

"I think he got six points from play against Offaly, scored five points from play against Kilkenny, scored five points from play against Wexford, then scored 1-3 against Cork and he would think himself that he underperformed in the final.

"I think a colder analysis from Austin himself, a more objective analysis, would show you that he had a reasonably good year, getting all those scores from play.

"The expectation that comes with 'hurler of the year' and 'young hurler of the year', can become ingrained in people's minds and attitudes.

"They say almost in advance, 'I wonder how the weight of 'hurler of the year' will feel'. I think sometimes we over analyse these things."

McGrath will be without Stephen O'Keeffe and Tom Devine due to hamstring injuries for this weekend's opening league clash with Wexford, while Barrett is also missing but is close to a return.

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