Tuesday 20 February 2018

'I'm just questioning ourselves in terms of did we over-train?' - McGrath points finger at preparation following Munster final defeat

Derek McGrath, right, shakes hands with Michael Ryan after the game. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath, right, shakes hands with Michael Ryan after the game. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Derek McGrath was half-way towards Tipperary's dug-out when the last whistle blew, his hand already out-stretched like a prayer. On the fifth anniversary of a slaughter still seared in Waterford minds, Tipp had just put them through it all over again. So McGrath did not need a protracted ceremony now.

Michael Ryan embraced him, leaning close to dispense some consoling words, but the hurt was reaching too far down inside the Waterford manager for him to process any kindnesses here.

He wheeled away, the distance between his team and this Munster Championship now suddenly feeling like a vast blackness.

Tipp had just delivered the most eloquent repudiation of what we imagined the modern game had become. They took the puzzle set up by Waterford's defensive calculus and laid it out on the Limerick slab like a jigsaw that had been spilled. How they did it was brutal and pitiless.

It blurred the boundaries of our understanding.

They buried five goals past a team the hurling world considered a defensive Fort Knox.

Derek McGrath reacts to Tipperary's dominance on field. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath reacts to Tipperary's dominance on field. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Everything about them was hard-edged and certain, a compact novel of selfless running and lust for contact that carried a clarity nobody had prophesised.

They scored 4-12 in a murderous second half, playing a game that was stamped with the personality of their manager. In his playing days, Ryan hurled with a physical candour that brooked no argument. And yesterday, his team was similarly geared.

John McGrath is too young to remember Ryan on the field, but the Loughmore-Castleiney kid, who scored 3-2 in his first Munster final, did not sound like he needed a history lesson. Tipp's physicality had been huge.

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"They (management) are driving it, that that's the type of hurling they want to play," he explained under the Mackey Stand after.

"We can play it any way. We'll mix it with whatever way the opposition wants. We're getting tough games, but we're well able for that too.

"You have to be well able to get stuck in, take physical challenges and give physical challenges. It's a game of hurling at the end of the day, you're not going to get anything soft.

"I wouldn't have seen much of Mick hurling, but that's his style. And they're really driving that on into us."

So Tipp's 42nd Munster crown felt like more than a coronation. It had the tone of a statement too. They brought a kinetic energy to battle that Waterford just could not withstand.

McGrath's men came to the Gaelic Grounds hunted by a suspicion that these days were becoming just voids in their story backing up and all their worst fears were realised.

This is now five Munster final defeats to Tipp in eight years.

But the margin, hauntingly, bit the deepest.

The very same vast 21-point gulf suffered five years ago to the day that Lar Corbett ran so ruthlessly amok. Six of Waterford's starters yesterday were on duty that day in Cork. Their nightmares must have blue and gold bunting.

McGrath, accompanied by older brother Noel in attack - younger brother Brian captained the Tipp minors to glory yesterday - was unambiguous about the clarity of Tipp's vision now.

"We're going the route we want, the direct route," he stressed. "The confidence that will come from winning a Championship game like that . . . four or five of us only made our debuts a couple of weeks ago. So that's massive for us. The older boys are driving it on.

"We don't want any set-backs. It's straight through, win every game."

His first goal, scored in the ninth minute, seemed a brutal jolt to Waterford's nerve.

"Someone actually hooked me," he explained, "and I'd say if I was out there till tomorrow, it wouldn't come back to me the way it did. I just tapped it in. It seemed to settle us down."

That was the moment Waterford's world turned dark. All coherence left their play. Having eased into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead, their use of the wind became panicked, so arriving at the mid-point with a two-point deficit left them felt an ominous predicament.

Within 12 minutes of the restart, they were 13 points adrift and beaten. McGrath could find no appetite for dressing it up as anything other than what it was.

"The nature of the defeat is alarming," he said flatly. "It's our job as management to have the team ready for a Munster final and you couldn't argue that we had the team ready today. So it's gut-wrenching to be honest with you.

"Maybe it's a case of sometimes, not being system-dependant, but you know when we were chasing the game, what we envisaged might happen if we pushed on, actually happened. Tipperary opened us up all over the field."

They have Wexford next in an All-Ireland quarter-final on Sunday week that, he suspects, will stretch them mentally every bit as physically.

"I'm not sure you know, a young group, hard to lift them," he sighed. "The demoralising nature of the defeat, it's very hard to quantify how they'll respond.

"All I can think about at the moment is how really poor we were today. I'm just questioning ourselves in terms of did we over-train?

"We wanted a Munster Championship. We felt the best way of maintaining success was to get a trophy today."

As the scores piled up, he removed some of his most senior officers from the carnage.

And down the line, Ryan stood, hands on hips, watching this Tipp grow palpably before his eyes. If they could do this without 'Bubbles'. . .

He is too much of a gentleman to beat the drums this kind of day invites. But Tipp looked to have been orchestrated beautifully here. They left Cathal Barrett on patrol of Austin Gleeson while the Mount Sion man was venturing forward and, of all Tipp's individual victories yesterday, perhaps that was the most emblematic.

Gleeson is wonderful, but he can be a bottle of fizzed up cola too. He'd been on a yellow card from the 11th minute and McGrath hauled him ashore with 15 still to play.

Asked if Waterford might, perhaps, abandon their sweeper system now, the manager's response was emphatic.

"No it actually re-inforces how we should set up," he said. "It would revert me to thinking that, you know, we're better playing a particular way."

Ryan, however, played down the idea of a game being governed by tactics.

"A lot of ye guys would be disappointed with how unsophisticated our game-plan can be at times," he smiled.

"Look, there's not a back man in the country that likes to be run at and turned and I think our forwards really pressed the Waterford backs. And it worked.

"Maybe we've a little bit more maturity, a little bit more hurt you know in terms of business that we didn't complete in previous seasons."

Still no Munster champions have claimed Liam MacCarthy since 2005. Would the five-week gap prove an obstacle?

"It hasn't seemed to hinder Kilkenny for the last couple of years has it?" shrugged John McGrath.

"We won't use that as an excuse."

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