No looking back in anger for McCarthy as Deise loom large
WHEN it comes to hurling, Justin McCarthy drives without rear or side-view mirrors.
All that counts is what lies ahead, complete with its challenges and targets. Ten months ago he stood outside the dressing-rooms at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds talking of the hard work that lay ahead for Waterford as they tried to recover after being demolished by Clare in the Munster championship. Four days later he resigned as manager, forced out by player power.
Next Sunday, he will be back at the Gaelic Grounds, this time as Limerick manager as they face up to Waterford in a game that will have a sharper cutting edge than what might normally be expected between two teams who are effectively out of contention for a place in the league final, while being clear of the relegation zone.
The Limerick squad would love to show solidarity with their new boss by beating the squad who ruthlessly forced him out in controversial circumstances. Besides, there's the broader landscape to consider. In particular the Munster championship clash with Waterford on June 14.
McCarthy showed great dignity in difficult times last summer, opting to remain silent other than issuing a short statement to express thanks to the Waterford County Board and supporters and to note the privilege it was "to have been involved with such a great team".
Even after Waterford collapsed in the All-Ireland final he resisted what must have been a temptation to give his side of the story, one which presumably could have depicted the players in a less flattering light than how they saw themselves. However, McCarthy took the view that it was in the past and that's where it would stay.
"There's no point looking back. My interest is in hurling and in the game itself. Things move on and I move with them. I'm with Limerick now and enjoying it immensely, so anything that happened in the past isn't relevant any more," he said.
When Limerick decided to head in a new managerial direction by not re-appointing Richie Bennis for another year, McCarthy was an obvious target. They had seen how he had transformed Waterford from frustrated under-achievers into a compact unit that won more Munster titles in six seasons than they had in the previous 50 years.
McCarthy was prepared to answer the Limerick call and, having seen at first hand what they have to offer, is happy that he chose to return to the frontline.
"Limerick is a great hurling county. There's huge interest in the game here -- they want success and are prepared to work for it. I have a great team of people around me and I'm really enjoying working with the players. It's all about putting down a base as quickly as possible so that we can work from there. Already, I can see progress and, hopefully, there's a lot more to come," he said.
Limerick's league position -- sixth of eight -- is a disappointing return for their efforts so far but, in fairness, luck hasn't been their closest ally. They lost to Kilkenny and Cork by a point each and to Galway by two points; tight margins which might just as easily have gone the other way. But then so too might the Dublin game, which Limerick won by two points. However, on balance, it would have to be acknowledged that four points from a possible 10 is an unflattering return for Limerick's efforts.
They have tried out several new players so as to widen the range of available options for the championship, while McCarthy is also working on the technical side of the game.
"I love working with players, developing skills and all the other things that go into getting a team ready for the championship. I find it a pleasure coming to Limerick and I couldn't be happier with the response I have got so far. There's lot of work to be done but we're getting on with it," he said.
He sounds like a man who's very much at peace with himself as he powers into the latest challenge, insisting that his appetite is as great as ever.
"My desire is as sound as it has ever been. So is my interest in what I do and how I do it. I have always been independent-minded enough to do things my own way and I'm hardly going to change now," he said.
It would, of course, be a huge boost for McCarthy if Limerick were to beat Waterford on Sunday, not just on a personal level, but in terms of strengthening the roots for the challenges ahead. Ultimately, it will take the championship re-match with Waterford in 10 weeks' time to ascertain just how resilient they are but, as of now, McCarthy believes that the signs are good.