Derek McGrath has addressed the fallout following his appearance on the Sunday Game two weeks ago when he and Donal Óg Cusack defended the use of the sweeper system in hurling.
The pair, alongside Brendan Cummins, were discussing Davy Fitzgerald having to defend the use of the sweeper once again following their agonising defeat to Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. McGrath himself was known to use the system throughout his tenure in charge of Waterford with Cusack describing both men as innovators who have helped hurling evolve.
However, Cusack later went on to compare the detractors of hurling tactics to the last remnants of British culture in Ireland which sparked outrage while McGrath’s attempt at explaining why inter-county players predominately come from third-level education was met with accusations of snobbery from the Waterford man.
Speaking to Pundit Arena earlier today, McGrath walked us through that night and how he felt liberated at first but in hindsight feels it was the wrong platform for him to get something off his chest so to speak.
“The show was only over and I was heading on a plane to Spain so my wife and two boys were waiting in the hotel and we were flying at five in the morning but I knew when I left there, I said, ‘Oh no!’ I wouldn’t say it was volatile but initially, I felt a bit liberated. On the sweeper debate, I would say that it was the wrong platform to espouse what I was espousing. I think that lingering hurt from some inaccuracies over the year just got the better of me. It was definitely the wrong platform.”
McGrath admitted that the backlash from certain corners around his comments on third-level education was “maddening” because he was just doing his research as an analyst and the fact is that more and more players are going to college than 20 years ago.
“The second one was a little bit more maddening for me in terms of the college debate in that I was just doing a bit of research as is your job as an analyst before the weekend and I was going through the Limerick team and saying Nickie Quaid Tralee IT, Sean Finn UL, Mike Casey UL, Richie English LIT and I’m saying; ‘Jesus 15 of them boys went to third-level’, I’m seeing they all went to college and these are the colleges they went to. Then I went through our own team in 2017 that started the All-Ireland final and all 15 of them went to college.
“The point I was trying to make around education wasn’t a snobby point that there was no room for a fella on shift work or there’s no room for an electrician or a farmer anymore. It was just ‘what’s the percentage of people going through college?’ I’d say it’s way higher than what it was 20 years ago and it’s a reflection of societal change rather than anything else. I was kind of mad at the reaction that someone would say you have to go to college to play hurling for Waterford.
“I wasn’t making that point and the reason why is I’m very invested in the leaving cert applied course in our school which is the old pre-employment course for want of a better phrase where guys are encouraged to do apprenticeships. You have guys that have different learning capabilities and capacities that they’ll go do PLC’s and apprenticeships. I actually teach the English and Communication course on it and it’s something that I am passionate about, so to be portrayed as someone that was saying that about college was wrong.”
The former Waterford manager highlighted that modern inter-county players are sharing more information because they are at college and that was ultimately the point he was making.
“A more pertinent point was boys are sharing information when they’re away at colleges, ‘what are you doing S&C wise? what are you doing nutrition wise?’ I was reared in a house where none of my parents even had any secondary school education and I could go to dad with a maths problem or a maths equation and he’d be able to solve it so I wasn’t for a second saying people can’t be self-educated and I was mad about that reaction.
“I’d be less insulted by someone having a pop around the sweeper system. I wouldn’t mind that because that’s ok and I actually admit, whilst the principles of what I was saying remain true, I would admit that the platform was wrong and the lingering hurt got the better of me there but I’d like to meet the man who hasn’t made a mistake.”