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Derek McGrath urges Waterford to feel pride amidst the pain

Déise manager fully aware of how difficult it will be for his young team to go one better

Dejected Waterford players and staff after their All-Ireland final defeat. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Derek McGrath’s young Waterford side didn’t have enough to topple Galway. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Waterford manager Derek McGrath was unable to say for sure whether he would be back for another crack at winning Liam MacCarthy, or whether his team would bounce back and go one better as easily as many expect.

Following Waterford’s three-point defeat to Galway in Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final, McGrath said he’s struggling to convey his pride without seeming to be celebrating “a defeatist moral victory”.

“We are hugely disappointed because it’s just so hard to get here, but I’ve never been as proud of the lads,” McGrath explained after the 0-26 to 2-17 defeat.

Eoin Murphy [selector] told the lads he wanted the floor to swallow him up after the 2008 All-Ireland final defeat, and he just told them there, that’s not the case now. But you need to get the balance right between saying that and accepting defeat.”

In Waterford’s only other senior All-Ireland final appearance since 1963, Kilkenny beat them 3-30 to 1-13 in 2008.

“That’s hard, telling a lad you’re proud of him, when we wanted the win so much, when they put so much into it.

“We have a lot of guys in that dressing room who operate in a world where winning is everything, so getting the balance right. Avoiding that defeatist moral victory approach in Waterford that I’ve spoken about for years.

“There’s the whole negative connotations that could come with that. The feeling in the dressing room is abject disappointment, but the speakers in there Dan [Shanahan], Eoin Murphy, myself; we’ve been talking about pride.”

This was only Waterford’s seventh ever senior All-Ireland final, their 14th in all grades (minor, under-21 and senior). In all, 10 players featured for Waterford against Galway who were 25-years-old or younger. Six of them are 23 or younger. With talent flowing up through the ranks from All-Ireland winning minor (2013) and under-21 (2016) teams, this Waterford side are expected to only get better.

“I’ve heard the word potential and talent in Waterford since I was a minor in 1992,” says McGrath, “potential and talent aren’t even a distant relative of what’s needed out there today.

“There’s so much more. And the lads have proved they have that, and Galway have proven to be a little bit ahead of us in that regard, but I think the steel in the Galway team is very, very obvious this year.

“So it’s an expectation, but it’s just so hard. Automatically you’d be thinking that other teams would be coming to the table too. It’s an expectation without it being a definite. An expectation is what it is.

Brian Cody came into our dressing room two years ago after we were beaten in the 2015 semi-final, and he said in a completely non-patronising way, that it’s so hard to get back here. And I think that’s why he’s kept Kilkenny so sharp every year. So the expectation is that we would improve but you just don’t know.”

The future

As for McGrath himself, who has another year left in his current term as Waterford boss; he would not give any assurances over his future. Or the future of Dan Shanahan or any of his other backroom staff.

“I haven’t really put a huge amount of thought into that,” explained the Déise boss, not appearing like a man who had clear intentions of moving on. “We’ve invested a huge amount of time over the last three or four years, and we’ve just been talking about the now. We said we’d leave the post-match speculation. We are just in the now.

“The nucleus is there for a good team going forward, but there are just no guarantees.”

Another man whose future is uncertain is Michael “Brick” Walsh. The 34-year-old scored a spectacular first-half point on the right sideline, and was his usual industrious self, before departing to a large ovation on 56 minutes.

“He is the best team-player that’s ever played for Waterford. There is no debate, that’s just how it is. His humility, and his crankiness at times, he’s just a different gravy. A different mentality. The chap has three kids under five and he’s just a brilliant man.

“He doesn’t get enough credit for his guile either, when he’s getting hooked he’s ducking in, he handpassed to Kevin for the first goal. He was outstanding for us today, and in retrospect maybe we shouldn’t have taken him off as early as we did.”

Another questionable substitution was the replacement of Jamie Barron on 65 minutes, he’d scored 0-2 and has been Waterford’s best player this summer.

“Jamie had been sick all last week, he didn’t train in nearly 10 days in the run up to the final. He missed out on the 15-aside match last Friday week. He was noticeably pale last week, so we did all we could to get as much out of him for as long as we could. Jamie has had a massive year and again followed it up with a good performance today.”

As for the run of the game itself, McGrath puts Waterford’s sluggish first-half down to Galway simply being better.

“I don’t think it was nerves, I don’t think it was tension. Galway being better for the first 15 minutes, that’s what I put it down to.

“I think we played into Galway’s hands in the second half, because we went long and our perseverance with our short game sort of got lost. We were going so long and we were dragging our half-forward line up the field and the space started opening up for Galway in their forward line.

“But Galway were prime for it. They’ve won the Walsh Cup, they’ve won the league, they’ve won the Leinster championship, they’re Kilkenny in waiting.”