Pre-match terror gives way to relief for Waterford manager
Derek McGrath had sensed something of an ambush about the Wexford challenge
Waterford manager Derek McGrath celebrates after the Wexford game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Derek McGrath found himself watching the British Open on Saturday afternoon, something he would never do on normal occasions. He sat with the remote control, unable to watch the hurling on television and seeking distraction elsewhere.
“I was terrified, yeah. Nervous. Couldn’t even watch the Tipp-Clare game. Just watched bits of it. Had the commentary turned down. I was watching the golf in between – and I hate golf! I was switching on the golf because I didn’t want to hear what was being said, especially when they were previewing our game.
“My youngest son was four yesterday. So we went in to Rockin’ Joe’s and had a burger after the game yesterday.”
He knew what he was facing here. All summer, he felt the tsunami of emotion generate by Davy Fitzgerald in Wexford and he sensed something of an ambush about this day. It didn’t quite materialise, and afterwards the Waterford manager was relieved rather than elated.
“Delighted. Absolutely thrilled to be a in a third semi-final in a row. So I think we are justifiably a top-four team. If we are anything more, I am not sure. I think we’ve recovered well from the Cork loss. Just terrified of this game. Because I was listening to Lee Chin speaking during the week and saying that every word Davy said was gold. And I just felt they were a really together, focused team. And I knew what was coming. So proud of our team to be in a third consecutive semi-final. Hopefully we can take the next step the next day.”
The Wenger approach
While his team were changing, the implications of the 66th-minute red card shown to Tadhg De Búrca were beginning to sink in.
“Arsene Wenger approach,” McGrath smiled. “I didn’t see it. What I will put on record is that Tadhg has been central to everything we have done well over the last four years. Made his debut at wing in 2014 and has been hugely central to how we play and what we have done. He is a purist, an absolute purist in his approach.
“I will have to see it and then we will leave due process take its course. It would be massive. It would be a huge blow. It would probably change things. I probably haven’t thought about it in terms of what has happened. I didn’t speak to him about it. I just got word from the fourth official that it was a possible red. That was the transmission coming through the radio on the sideline.”
De Búrca had enjoyed another sure-footed afternoon until that point. But it was Waterford’s veteran players – Michael Walsh, Noel Connors and Kevin Moran – who showed the way here. Both managers felt that Moran’s goal broke the tactical stranglehold imposed by both sides.
“Yeah, because until then we knew how it was going,” McGrath said.
“It was a classic case of they have seven and we have seven, and who is going to break first in terms of a tit-for-tat approach. Sometimes if you push your extra man up on their extra man, it is a five-on-five situation at the other side and there is acres of space. So I am proud of the lads in terms of how we kept our shape . . . Our use of Darragh Fives in particular in the first half. It was obvious Podge Doran was not only going to try and discommode Noel in the air but he was going to try and discommode Tadgh as well. So that was a crucial score in the game, that goal, because it was the first time there was a chink of space in behind, and I felt Kevin took it well for a guy that is not renowned for goal-scoring.”
Fitzgerald, too, believed the match was thrust into a different dynamic by Moran’s goal.
“I felt we’d got our way back into the game. If I’m right on the possession stats – unless my stats men are completely wrong – we’d a lot more possession in the first-half than Waterford did. That’s fact. We gave away a few easy scores, I thought. Just a bit naive. I can’t remember this off-hand but of their first seven or eight points, most of them were from frees, without a shadow of doubt. I’m not blaming the ref for that. I think that could be down to us just being a small bit overenthusiastic. We had a plan, which was to let the man in possession shoot if we want to, which I think we should have more than give him a free puck.
“That was tough but we clawed our way right back. You’ve seen that with the scores we got and when we worked the ball short. I thought it was A1. We got our scores and that was A1. Just the goal before half-time . . . it just kind of knocked us. I felt that just got us a small bit.”