Tuesday 24 April 2018

Mahony: You can criticise us, but not the system

Defender sweeps away McGrath detractors

Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh scores the first of Waterford’s four goals in their victory over Cork. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh scores the first of Waterford’s four goals in their victory over Cork. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Last week, the former Waterford defender Stephen Frampton attempted to measure the approval rating within Waterford for the style of hurling that had taken them to a third successive All-Ireland semi-final series.

Tired of the wealth of moral victories which Waterford had built up over two decades, Frampton admitted that he was favourably disposed to it himself - but suggested it was no more than "50/50" among the population.

How do that other 50pc feel now about it, you wonder?

If ever there was an appropriate match for Waterford to deploy a sweeper it was this one, to put an extra squeeze on Cork forwards who had under-scored their appreciation for space in three big Munster Championship matches.


But, in truth, the decision was probably made during whatever debrief took place after the defeat to Cork in June.

Waterford had to be true to themselves and it distilled down to one critical element - they are a better team with the security of the extra defender operating in a system which they have been working progressively on for the last three years.

It has left the impression that Derek McGrath has been schooling a group of scrupulous accountants but Philip Mahony, who had successfully ushered Luke Meade out of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final by the break, knows the perception is detached from reality and they'll enjoy and embrace the build-up to the All-Ireland final.

"That's what Derek (McGrath) said," revealed Mahony. "You could try and cocoon yourself for the next three weeks," said Mahony.

"Some people may have the impression that as a group we are robotic in the way we play and we're told what to do every time we go in training or on the field but, I can tell you, it's the complete opposite.

"We're a very free-spirited group and you have to enjoy it. We've waited long enough to get into a final that you just can't block yourself away from that. We'll keep doing what we have been doing since the Cork game. You take it day by day and that's literally what we've done," he explained.

"It might sound simple but Derek just tells us to go out and express ourselves and try and attack everything and not to be worrying.

"We've been through a lot of things as a group both collectively and individually so it puts things in perspective and we were able to go out there and play with no fear.

"We're delighted after the way we performed in June. Cork blew us away that day. We just took it day by day, step by step from there and have ended up in an All-Ireland final."

McGrath's influence with this team has been profound and was echoed through all the conversations with players after Sunday's match.

The manager printed the No 5 on his hand for the match as a reminder of Tadhg De Búrca's contribution at so many stages of their development over the last three years.

"I wasn't aware of Derek actually doing that," said Jake Dillon, a De La Salle club colleague.

"Every one is looking for a different aspect to motivation. Derek is brilliant. Anything he asks us we want to do to the best of our ability. We always trusted them. Now, for himself and Dan (Shanahan) it's unbelievable. They've been with us through thick and thin."

McGrath took parental leave earlier this year that allowed him to spend more time with family as he dug into a fourth year with this team. It stoked a reaction from some quarters, but Dillon believes it was "blown out of proportion" - as was the reaction to their earlier Cork defeat when McGrath's management came under particular scrutiny.

"He's man of 100pc commitment. He's always been like that whether it was in school, I was fortunate enough to play club hurling with him. He's just all in. He's a very emotional man, he's a father figure to a lot of us. He guides us in the right direction on and off the field."

Mahony admitted De Búrca's loss was a significant factor in their preparation.

"We'd be lying to say it wasn't. I know Derek spoke to us about what Tadhg represents individually and everything he has brought to the table. We were obviously very disappointed when he didn't get off during the week and if you had seen Tadhg himself, he was visibly upset and mad to be playing. It definitely was a factor."

Dillon also saw the absence of their key component as prime motivation.

"We were all bitterly disappointed for Tadhg, he's key to everything we do. He's been our most consistent hurler. It was unfortunate he couldn't play, we spoke about how Tadhg has got us out of holes. We just wanted to give him a chance to play in an All-Ireland final.

"It's been hard getting beaten in two semi-finals, tough to take. And this year, since Cork beat us in June, we've taken every game like an All-Ireland final, the Offaly match, Kilkenny, Wexford. It was kill or be killed.

"We have three weeks ahead of us now and a lot of improvement to focus on."



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