Tuesday 23 January 2018

A talent blessed with flair and imagination

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

KEN McGrath did not feature among our nominations for the Irish Independent 'Unsung Heroes' selections, drawn from players who never won All-Ireland medals, but several entrants for the readers' competition selected him anyway.

He wasn't included in the nominations because they were confined solely to players who had retired, but presumably some of those who regarded him so highly felt they couldn't select their team without him.

Ken's father Pat was chosen on the team by our selection panel as a fitting reward for his 15 years service to Waterford between 1971 and 1986.

The nominations were compiled in January, at which stage Ken was involved in a desperate battle to prove to himself that he could extend his career by another season.

He conceded to the forces of time this week but if his retirement had come a few months ago, it's highly likely that there would have been a father/son combination on the 'Unsung Heroes' team. Like his father, Ken lasted 15 years as a Waterford senior but, unlike Pat, he experienced the thrill of winning Munster titles and playing in an All-Ireland final.

He said yesterday that while the memory of the 2008 All-Ireland final mauling by Kilkenny was very disappointing, it shouldn't be over-dramatised.

He believes that a player's career should not be defined by whether he won an All-Ireland medal, a view that certainly holds substance in his case.

Ken McGrath was one of the finest players of his generation, combining so many natural talents with a zeal and determination which flourished wherever he was asked to perform. He was often relocated to wherever the latest leak had sprung and, by the time he closed his Waterford account, he had played in every line except goalkeeper.

His most memorable performances were at centre-back, although he was equally comfortable at midfield or half-forward. He hurled with a flair and sense of adventure that made him a main point of reference for Waterford over many years.

He said yesterday that hurling had changed over the years and was now becoming a possession game rather than the catch-and-hit style in which he majored for so long. But adapting to a new approach would have been no problem to him in his peak years.

I recall spending several hours with Ken (then 20), his father and his mother Anne at their home in Waterford a few days before the 1998 Munster final and getting a wonderful insight into the family dynamic. Ken's brother Roy was also on the panel while younger brother Eoin had played for the minors that year.

The one thing that worried Pat about his sons heading into inter-county careers was the inevitable comparisons with him.

"If Ken doesn't play well next Sunday, he'll be criticised, probably because of who he is,'' he said. "I hate people saying to young fellas: 'you're not a patch on your father'. In most cases it's not even true."

Given Pat's excellence, it says a lot for Ken that the 'not a patch on your father' line could never be used against him.

Irish Independent

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