Derek McGrath: hurling management now a full-time job

Waterford boss has taken break from teaching after he felt his standards were slipping

Derek McGrath realises mid-sentence he “could be vilified” for saying it, but keeps saying it anyway: that intercounty management has made teaching in De La Salle Waterford extremely difficult and that taking a break was not just for his sake but for the sake of his students.

Now in his fourth season as manager of the Waterford senior hurling team, and a teacher at De La Salle since 2001, McGrath volunteers this information when assessing the demands of the so-called modern game. He’s been on parental leave since February 6th, a week before the start of the Allianz Hurling League, and while that period has now expired he’s extended it until the end of the current term.

“I just felt the best scenario for me at the moment was to be concentrating on hurling,” says McGrath. “So yeah, just to manage clearly. Margaret Betts, the principal in our school, has been brilliant to me. I had three weeks parental leave, and I was due to go back for two weeks, and I just said ‘look, for an additional two weeks’. So I’ve used my son Fionn’s 16 weeks now, till September.

“And ironically I find myself working even harder at it, and we [Waterford] find ourselves in a fairly precarious position. So maybe the secret is . . .”


Naturally, he does intend on returning to teaching, yet doesn’t believe the demands of intercounty management can be sustainable with full-time employment. “No, not a hope. I actually found I was becoming poor in the classroom. I just found I wasn’t with it fully. And for the lads sake, for the young fellas sake, I wasn’t teaching as well perhaps.

Good relationship

“I love teaching, believe it or not. You mightn’t think it but I love it. And I love the school I’m teaching in because I went there myself. And four of the six backs playing for Waterford went there too. So I’ve a good relationship with all the lads.

“But a lot of the lads there would be looking for 600 points, and I’m in the middle of doing a gameplan up, you know, instead of going through whatever. That’s just the reality. I just found I wasn’t as committed to the teaching as I should have been, while I was in class.

“I know I could be vilified for that, or could be in trouble for saying that. But I just felt the best scenario for me at the moment was to be concentrating on hurling.”

McGrath is further prompted by the question of whether or not he would ever manage a county other than his native Waterford.

“I haven’t allowed myself to think about it, what it would be like, to be with another county. But I will say I’m such an obsessive character, I’d be thinking about hurling whether I’m involved or not. First thing in the morning I tend to think about it. It’s trying to transmit that obsessive nature to your players, without it becoming all about you. I think that’s the key thing.”

Indeed McGrath, speaking at the launch of the 2017 KN Group All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge, hasn’t looked beyond the current season, and whether or not he’ll need to make a call on his teaching or his management going into the 2018 season.

“I don’t know about that. People say you’re in the ideal job for it. We’ve 14 teachers in our panel, and most of them say it’s the only thing they’re interested in doing because it frees you up for the summer.


“But it depends on your personality I suppose. I’ve just found it difficult to be all or nothing in teaching or all or nothing in management. So I would find it difficult to do the two, yeah. I think other people are maybe able to deal with it better than me. I suppose I’ve just become so consumed by it that maybe it’s just the way I’m going to do it for now. Maybe I’ll learn into the future a different way of doing it.”

In the long-term, therefore, is the only viable solution the payment of managers?

“I’m not sure should I say they should be paid or not. But I think in terms of if you wanted to clear up any pub talk, if you like, if there was a definite stance on this is what’s happening and this is what’s involved . . .I’d be slow to say it’s definitely the next step, because I don’t think it will happen. And I don’t want to be making it a crusade here now.

“But you would think there are other managers in that scenario as well where they are putting that amount of time into it, just not publicising it like myself.”

Visit for more information on the KN Group All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge in Waterford, set for this September.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics