Tuesday 21 January 2020

McGrath battling to keep a lid on Deise's great expectations

Waterford manager Derek McGrath (SPORTSFILE)
Waterford manager Derek McGrath (SPORTSFILE)
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Derek McGrath can remember the talk around Waterford when they were paired with Wexford in the League quarter-final a couple of weeks ago.

He heard phrases like 'banana skin' and general talk that presupposed a Waterford win and it made him intensely uncomfortable. After all, Wexford had dumped them out of the Championship a couple of summers ago.

Still the talk went unabated and for McGrath, it was a reminder that making room for his still young side to develop is becoming increasingly difficult.

"It's very hard to control what people expect," said the Deise boss. "To give you a practical example, in the run-up to the Wexford game in Wexford Park, the general talk in Waterford was 'banana skin' or 'difficult place to go'.

"For me, that was way off the mark and certainly not how we saw it as a group. It was absolutely contradictory to how we saw it. Even in the aftermath, when we were meeting people we were told 'ah, you didn't play well' and 'you should be beating Wexford' but that is not what you want to hear.

"There's nothing between us and Wexford, particularly a Wexford team who were obviously motivated coming off the back of stories in the county the week before the game.

"I know how hard Liam Dunne works in the job and Wexford have a lot of ability. It's only a year and a half ago that Wexford put us to the sword in Nowlan Park, having already beaten Clare, the All-Ireland champions.

"In advance of the game, I read one headline that said 'Waterford in a different league to Wexford'. While it was true literally, the chasm isn't as big as people think on any given day."

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McGrath knows as well as anyone that supporters have short memories. While overseeing a painful overhaul of playing personnel early in his tenure, McGrath and the Waterford camp had to take cover as the brickbats rained down.

At that stage, he found an ally in the man he faces on Sunday, Limerick manager TJ Ryan. Limerick missed out on promotion from Division 1B again this term but, with their Na Piarsaigh crew back in tow, he took a sizeable scalp when inflicting a first defeat on Dublin in Parnell Park in five years.

"TJ is a good friend of mine. When things weren't going so well for myself (in 2014), he was very supportive. He's a sound fella. There was a bounce (against Dublin) because they have some very good players," said McGrath.

"With the Na Piarsaigh boys coming back in, and the winning of the U-21 last year and three of the four Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final teams, they have lots of good players. It's no surprise.

"He spoke common sense after the Dublin game when he said they were missing a third of their panel. It's hard to be linking together earlier in the year when that's the case but now they're able to be a serious team."


Sunday's clash should reveal more about the potential of both sides. Waterford's style last year provoked much commentary and this year they have struggled in front of goal, raising just one green flag in six League matches.

"I won't say it's a damning stat but it's not one we want to have associated with us," McGrath said.

"What we're trying to manage now is the talk about it, that it doesn't become engrained in our approach. We love to hit the net the same as any other team but we're trying to get the balance right so that while being conscious of it, it doesn't become a burdening factor.

"We're happy to win games in whatever manner is possible. We're working to hit the net but we're not going to promise any radical change in meeting that end.

"We're like any management, we're encouraging the lads that when they get the chance to take on their man but, look, we don't want to over-emphasis it and hope it comes in a natural flow.

"It's like if you say to guys before matches 'don't give away frees' and then there is a tendency not to tackle then. We wouldn't be happy with it (the lack of goals) but we're not stressing it too much in the group. It's about being as positive as we can."

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