Waterford manager Derek McGrath has categorically dismissed rumours about him replacing Ger Cunningham in Dublin next season, writes John Fogarty.
McGrath’s name has been linked with the vacancy, but the De La Salle man, who has an agreement to remain in charge of his native county until the end of the 2019 season, yesterday distanced himself from the role.
Suggesting that the “rumour-mongering” in Waterford might be a consequence of how tight the panel is, McGrath laughed off the Dublin speculation.
“I can assure you now the only thing I’ll be in Dublin for next year is I’ll be on the TY (transition year) trip to Dundrum at Christmas to go ice-skating and if I’m going to Liffey Valley [with] my wife when she goes on the odd Saturday and that’s the only reason why I’ll be in Dublin next year, or the zoo, which I absolutely love. Other than that… not that I need to do that [explain myself],”he told Eamon Keane on ‘Déise Today’.
McGrath is fully aware of what has been said in Waterford about his future plans and what was claimed to have taken place in the camp following the Munster semi-final loss to Cork in June. He told a story of how he met Austin Gleeson and Tadhg de Búrca for a meal the Tuesday prior to the All-Ireland second-round qualifier against Kilkenny last month.
“They were the two fellas central to what we were going to do against Kilkenny, so I said I’d get a feel for what’s happening. We sat down and got a bit of steak and I said [to Gleeson and de Búrca): ‘Jesus, I’ve a funny one for ya. My mother just came in from Mass this morning and she met a lady who said to her that Derek doesn’t really care how Waterford are going this year, he’s the Dublin manager next year. Not alone is he the Dublin manager, but he has the director of hurling job lined up in Dublin, €150k, he’s leaving his teaching career, blah, blah, blah.’
“So, when I said this to the lads, Tadhg said to me: ‘Jees, my brother said that to me last night.’
“The lads know my position. There are certain things you don’t leave out in terms of the relationship you have with players, so they were actually just laughing at the rumour, but Austin said to me then: ‘I’ll tell you a better one. The Tuesday after the Cork game, myself and yourself were supposedly in fisticuffs in Walsh Park, killing each other and, on the Thursday night, Philip and Pauric Mahony had a massive row and Philip hit me with the hurley then afterwards.’
“But these things became part of the perception on the street. Austin had actually texted me on the Monday after the Cork game, a really, really emotive text, saying that he would never let me down again on the field, hand on heart. So, sometimes, I think what can happen is the tightness of our group can allow other people to engage in rumour-mongering. I don’t know why that could irritate people, when a group can be as tight as we are, when a group can make as many mistakes as we have and we acknowledge that. I think people will go down the easy route, which is scaremonger by putting out an absolute vicious rumour.”
McGrath intimated he would engage more in the sweeper system debate were it not for the fact he is still involved in the championship. He admitted he does find it “funny” that so many people are concerned about de Búrca’s disciplinary case, when he is the player filling the sweeper role that receives such strong criticism.
“It allows you to have a little laugh to yourself, a little chuckle. A little chuckle is good for all of us, at times.”
McGrath concedes the mood in his home depends on how Waterford have fared in matches. Asked what his wife Sarah would say about him when he comes home after a defeat, he responded: “I’d say ‘hard to live with’. Not in terms of tantrums. The mood in our house, I’d say it’s 90% reflective of how the games have gone. So last Sunday [week], there’s an uplifting atmosphere. Then coming home after the Cork game, it’s absolute deflation.
“My eldest son is getting really good at becoming the man we want him to become. Even before games, on the Saturday night [before Wexford] I would have gone down to him in the middle of the night and he’d be talking during the night. I’d be sleeping in the bottom bunk with him and it was kind of like a Rocky movie.
He said: ‘Do me one favour, dad: Beat Davy Fitz.’ I actually get on reasonably well with Davy and I said that to him, but he said: ‘I know, but I just want you to beat Davy.’
“Then he’d say: ‘Dad, you beat Kilkenny for the first time in 58 years.’ So, it’s almost like a reassuring moment from your son that’s 11, that it matters. I know it sounds over the top, but that’s family. Yeah, I’d be difficult enough to live with, depending on what has happened, but I think it’s definitely progressed. I would have been worse last year, worse the year before, so I’m definitely getting better.”
McGrath has spoken before about his sense of paranoia: “I tend to see what’s coming around the corner and I tend to look around the corner a little bit too much in life and, when I do that, I waste a bit of energy.”
With the semi-final against Cork approaching, McGrath said Waterford couldn’t have been prepared better for their most recent clash and their training camp in Fota Island boded well, but the players admitted afterwards that they didn’t perform on the day.