Honesty proves the best policy as Waterford mull over their defeat
McGrath admits sustaining intensity against Kilkenny proved difficult
Kilkenny’s manager Brian Cody is reflecting on yet another All-Ireland final appearance. Photograoh: James Crombie/Inpho
Brian Cody, briefly pausing while guiding Kilkenny into a 14th All-Ireland final since 1999, gifted the media a rare joke last evening. Granted, it was at our expense.
A journalist from Stuttgart, having waited patiently until the end of a usual-enough Cody press conference, with little to report, asked for a description of hurling “for someone who doesn’t know anything about it”.
“I’d say you would have plenty of company here,” said Cody, nodding to the row of sports writers.
Our German friend battled into his follow-up: Is it thrilling for you after all these years?
“Is it what?”
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s our World Cup. It’s our big, big sport, our national sport. To get to the final is just a wonderful thing.
“I think you all know all about hurling, lads,” Cody smiled again. “Don’t take it personally.”
How can you? The relentlessness of Cody’s Kilkenny is mentioned to an admittedly empty Derek McGrath. Nothing was left unexplored in Waterford’s quest to survive a Tipperary then Kilkenny onslaught and prevail. Joe Schmidt came into their camp before they beat Cork in June.
“He came to speak to us for an hour, he was absolutely brilliant. He was just so ordinary, for the extraordinary coach that is he he was just so ordinary,” said McGrath. “His whole approach was to get the whole levels of intensity up and then the natural flow to your game would come after the intensity is up.”
The Waterford hurlers also embraced a draconian winter, forgoing expenses and basic privileges with a vision of sacrifice to deliver the ultimate glory.
“Sustaining the overall intensity against them is so difficult. You feel you have them. There were sections of the game where we were doing some fist-pumping ourselves on the line. We felt we had them.”
If All-Irelands were won by the most quotable, honest and insightful managers, then McGrath would some day join Cody in hurling’s Valhalla.
“There is a lot of belief there which comes from the whole art of winning,” McGrath continues, settling into a philosophical discourse about what makes Kilkenny what they are.
“And they are really good hurlers as well.”
The relentlessness – can Waterford eventually be that way?
“I’m not sure. I’m trying to be as honest as possible. You would hope but there’s no guarantees that any team will ever have a forward line with TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Eoin Larkin, Walter Walsh, Colin Fennelly or the equivalent.”
The most astonishing aspect of all this is that the recently departed Kilkenny legends can be forgotten already.
“I suppose Bubbles [O’Dwyer]and those [in Tipperary] is why Kilkenny and Tipp find themselves ahead of the pack.
He was still mourning the loss. They came with a distinct plan, took aim at a Kilkenny fullback line stripped of the greatest defenders in modern times and came away with nothing but a solid, albeit competitive, beating.
“We take solace from the fact that we are in an All-Ireland semi-final. Just very disappointed. We felt our game could trouble Kilkenny but we never got our game going.
“We are under no illusions that next year to try and sustain what we did last winter, in terms of the primitive environments that we put our lads through, will be very difficult going forward.”
And yet Kilkenny do this year on year.
“You have to have nothing but admiration,” says McGrath. “The non-fuss kind of way in which they do it; almost as if they don’t do any, I won’t say tactics but their whole approach is kind of just so omerta almost, if you like.”