Sport Hurling

Wednesday 21 March 2018

I trust the lads to have a few pints - Waterford hurling manager McGrath

McGrath organised training around Ireland’s Euro 2016 fixtures, even England’s where possible, while also running a sweepstake. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
McGrath organised training around Ireland’s Euro 2016 fixtures, even England’s where possible, while also running a sweepstake. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

With frequent talk about the demands of an inter-county career, the huge sacrifices involved and whether it's worth all the hours, it's refreshing to hear Waterford boss Derek McGrath discuss the balancing act between sporting life and real life.

The inter-county 'bubble' is referenced ad nauseam in this era, with strength and conditioning, nutrition and recovery the current buzzwords, but McGrath chooses to uphold some old-fashioned methods when he sees fit.

Much was made of the Irish soccer players celebrating their victory over Italy last month in the dressing-room, with many rightly saying that such a scenario would be frowned upon within GAA circles as drinking bans are used as a barometer to measure one's dedication to the cause.

But after reversing their league final defeat to Clare in the Munster semi-final, giving McGrath "big-time satisfaction", the Déise let their hair down. They would quickly set their eyes towards a Munster final but not before celebrating success.

McGrath knows what his players put into it, trusts them and sees merits in letting them "release".

"We had a few pints on the Sunday - and on the Monday, which is probably unheard of in this day and age, and then they went back to the clubs. I went for a couple with them the second night," he says.

"And it wasn't a case of the old school teacher keeping an eye on them. I know what they put into it, and I know if the release valve isn't tearing into a big session, if it's a little slower than that, it may be better.

"Letting them have two days once they behave is fine, and they do behave. I remember Gary Neville saying that sometimes in that socialising, different friendships can form, fellas can relax. That's not to promote a drink culture, which we don't do.

"But we don't have a big drink ban either. We let them drive that but they're so keen to do well that it's not a problem. I'd probably be a bit looser on them now but it's always easier to be loose when they've won a game."

McGrath organised training around Ireland's Euro 2016 fixtures, even England's where possible, while also running a sweepstake. Trying to ensure that players lead the most normal life possible is key but he takes no kudos for the balance created.

Inter-county management is a challenging environment and the De La Salle teacher has regularly spoken about the lengths he goes to in an effort to keep his players stimulated and focused.

His plans went up in smoke before the Banner clash, however, as the video compiled for their eight-minute trip from the Horse and Jockey to Semple Stadium malfunctioned, teaching him a valuable lesson along the way.

"It came to a stage where we realised 'if we're going to be relying on a DVD. . .' Even though we pointed to a DVD last year as a reason for winning the Cork game. We're trying to move on in terms of stages of development," he says.

"I remember hearing a few years ago about the Waterford bus that wouldn't go under the stand in Croke Park. Got stuck. And they had to walk. Another day they went to Ennis, couldn't get in, and had to walk through the crowd.

"I know all these things are part of preparation but you have to get over all these things that are, not gimmicky, they are crucial at times, but it's about getting them to the field, and getting a massive effort out of them is more important.


"There's a certain sense of, if we're beaten, we're beaten by a better team on the day. It won't be because we got A, B, or C wrong or because of preparation."

McGrath believes that with much conversation surrounding their use of a sweeper systems, the talent at his disposal, including Austin Gleeson, Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, is often overlooked. He feels human qualities like resilience, humility and relentlessness shouldn't be ignored because of their style of play.

With Tipperary coming down the tracks again in the Munster final McGrath is well aware of the challenge they face but expects his charges to rise to it.

"I was accused of bigging up Tipp in the league match saying they were three years ahead of us but the reality is, there is Munster Championship medals in their dressing room, All-Ireland appearances," he says.

"Tipp have obviously put huge work into how to deal with the different systems they're coming up against, but what gets lost in that a little is the fact that Tipp just have unbelievable players, unbelievable stickmen.

"Maybe we were subconsciously softer last year. Get to a semi-final against Kilkenny, 'this is a magnificent achievement'. Time waits for no-one. Maybe it's time to try and take the next step."

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