Monday 23 September 2019

John Mullane: 'The Pope could have got the job and he wouldn’t compare with Derek in the eyes of the players'

Derek McGrath during his time in charge of Waterford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Derek McGrath during his time in charge of Waterford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

John Mullane

IT’S hard to believe that only two years ago Waterford nearly got their hands on the holy grail, whereas now the questions are flying around about where it’s all gone wrong and what the future holds for the county.

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I took in a few beverages in the Roanmore GAA clubhouse before last Sunday’s hiding against Limerick and mingled with supporters from both counties as an electric atmosphere built in the city. The arrival of JP McManus by helicopter up the road in Mount Sion also had the place buzzing.

The Walsh Park experience got a massive thumbs up from everyone, but that is the only positive we can take from a dismal few weeks with two drubbings leaving morale on the floor.

If there was anything in our lads I expected a positive reaction to the Tipperary beating, but Aaron Gillane’s first-half goal sucked all the life out of us and watching the next hour was torturous.

What annoyed me most was the body language and the lack of effort on our home soil, with Conor Prunty, Callum Lyons and Jack Prendergast the only three who could look at the man in the mirror with their pride still intact.

Hearing different tales coming out of the dressing room is never a good sign and the inevitable blame game must have been difficult for Páraic Fanning.

Normally, I’d give a players’ perspective, but after experiencing inter-county management with the Waterford U-21s in 2015 when we lost to Clare by two points in Ennis, my opinion radically changed.

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That year opened my eyes and much like politics, inter-county management is a cut-throat environment. When you’re winning, it’s rewarding, but when you’re losing and making mistakes, it’s horrible and someone has to get the blame.

It was enough to turn me off inter-county management for the foreseeable future and I can relate to the position Páraic finds himself in. The last few weeks will have hurt him and his family, especially having to face people every day in his job with Waterford IT.

Páraic will admit that he made mistakes: taking Pauric Mahony off the frees, substituting Jamie Barron against Clare, not man-marking Tony Kelly and amazingly, leaving Conor Gleeson on the line against Limerick.

Using a sweeper when the breeze was at their backs in the first half against Limerick was another strange decision and I wonder was that call made by the manager or the players themselves?

He should not take all the blame, though. Were there any problems two weeks before the Clare game after an encouraging League campaign and a positive training camp in Portugal?

No, but all of a sudden he’s being thrown under the bus. Páraic was on a hiding to nothing taking the job and he was very brave to fill the sizeable shoes left by a father-figure in Derek McGrath.

You could have brought in the Pope and he wouldn’t measure up against Derek in players’ eyes and as soon as something went wrong, comparisons were made to the previous regime.

That’s where the problem lies. Everything he does is caught between Derek’s way and his own methods and that frustration seemed to carry over to the players in the uncharacteristic sending off of Pauric Mahony.

Páraic inherited a team where the age profile of leaders like Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran was against him and a void has emerged as they come to the end of their stellar careers.

It should also be noted that Páraic’s backroom team is lightweight compared to other set-ups, but my biggest bugbear is that it’s easier to break into Buckingham Palace than the Waterford panel.

It’s a closed shop and maybe now we are paying the price for things going stale and cosy for some players and not maintaining the savage level of competition needed to keep lads on their toes.

I’m a firm believer that you should freshen up your panel every year with at least six new players coming into the fold and if a lad is going well on the club scene, he should be drafted in and someone should be let go.

Jack Fagan from De La Salle is a perfect example. He transferred from Meath to play a higher standard of hurling and challenge himself and has excelled at Fitzgibbon Cup level with Carlow IT.

He has a great paw and has earned praise from DJ Carey but yet, he can’t get a sniff at the panel and if Páraic decides he’s up for another year and the county board want him to stay on — he is contracted for two years — he might have to do what McGrath did after 2014.

Derek culled many regulars and brought in new faces after his first year as it’s very hard for a manager to come in and drop players from a previous set-up without giving everyone a chance.

Derek was under serious pressure after the first year and the similarities between the two are obvious. Páraic’s backroom team also needs to be freshened up and connections to Derek’s time need to be cut. There are too many in the camp with attachments to the last set-up and it’s not healthy for anyone.

People are saying that we could become the next Offaly and we’ve got to be careful. Amber lights are flashing and Croke Park need to invest more into coaching in the county to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

Everything should be up for review and nobody should be safe from the exit door if it means getting Waterford back to being very competitive again.

Confirmation of Walsh Park’s redevelopment is encouraging but it could be another tough stint at the office against Cork. Anything other than a Cork victory would be a big surprise but let’s hope it’s not another black day for Waterford and that something can be salvaged from a disastrous summer.

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