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29th Jun 2018

One of Derek McGrath’s biggest regrets as Waterford boss will hit home with many players

Patrick McCarry

Derek McGrath’s journey with many of the Waterford hurlers did not begin when he took over the senior side.

For McGrath, and many of the players that would go on and star for the seniors, it began at De La Salle College. He came to prominence by leading that team to Harty Cup and All-Ireland success. He then took over the senior De La Salle hurling team before Waterford came calling in 2013.

In his five years in charge of the Déise, McGrath led them to five finals but they would only claim one National League title. They looked good in reaching last year’s All-Ireland final but Galway were too good on the day and injuries ravaged their Liam MacCarthy aspirations this year.

McGrath stepped down as Waterford boss earlier this month and held a farewell party for all his playing, coaching and backroom staff. There were some tears, of course, but many of them were happy ones as McGrath and his players looked back on a journey they took together, as a team.

McGrath joined Colm Parkinson at Rearden’s in Cork, on Thursday, for The GAA Hour’s live hurling show and gave an insight into what it meant to coach that talented Waterford team, and [from 8:00 below] he revealed one of his biggest regrets.

Asked about wins or losses that stuck out in his mind, during his five-year tenure, McGrath said:

“Coming down the stretch last year against Cork, in the semi-final, and getting to 71, 72 minutes and knowing you were going to get to a final. That was a nice feeling.

“The pummelling by Tipperary in the Munster final of 2016, and the aftermath and reaction to how we played, was hard to take from personal point of view and a team point of view.”

Another regret that McGrath revisited is something that will hit home to many players who sometimes found themselves dropped from panels, at school, college, club or inter-county level. The hurt is just the same.

McGrath commented:

“I remember we made huge changes to the panel at the end of 2014 or 15. We dropped 10 or 11 guys off the panel.

“I had a parent-teacher meeting in school and I’d say I gave each of them about 20 seconds on the phone. Guys who had probably been involved for 10 or 12 years with Waterford.

“And I basically said, ‘Listen, you’re not in the plans this year’. Didn’t even engage in much of a conversation. So I probably owed it to them to meet them face to face.”

McGrath continued, “It was probably the easy way out. A cop-out on my behalf.

“It wasn’t anything to do with me being inexperienced. I’d been thinking about it all day. I had a third year parent-teacher meeting. It’s bad enough meeting the parents and all you are thinking about is telling the parents how they’re getting on in The Merchant of Venice. When all you’re really thinking about is Player A, B, C or D!

“I went out into the car and I sat out there, at the back of the ball alley in De La Salle College, and I’d say I was on the phone for three and a half minutes in total. It was probably a cop-out but I learned from that.”

It may not mean much, now, to the men who received those phone calls but it says a lot about McGrath as a man that his quick-fix solution still rests uneasily with him to this day.

He got some things wrong, of course, but the people of Waterford will remember him fondly as a manager with spirit who got a lot right too.

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