Waterford boss Derek McGrath recently committed to one more year in charge of the Déise. During his four-year tenure, he has seen his team transition from an ageing side to a youthful outfit to be reckoned with.
When Derek McGrath took over the Waterford senior hurling side in the winter of 2013, the Déise were a side in transition. The majority of the players from the glory period of 2002-2008 had now retired.
What was left was an average side made up of those still battling from the noughties, and much of today’s side at a more youthful stage of the progression. However, a 2013 minor All-Ireland victory caused reason for hope.
Needless to say, it would be a few years before those minors would make the step-up to senior. It was this reason that caused many to urge McGrath to be patient and wait for these players to be at their peak.
McGrath had other ideas however and decided to take the job. However, he may have had doubts following his first season in charge.
Relegation from the league and defeat to Wexford in the qualifiers was seen as a poor return.
Since then however, Derek McGrath has become one the most admired managers in the game. A trust in youth and a sweeper system radically changed the De La Salle man’s fortunes.
Two league final appearances (one victory), two Munster final appearances and an All-Ireland final appearance make up the English teacher’s resume since the beginning of 2015.
After a hectic 2017 which saw the Déise defeated by just a puck of a ball in their first All-Ireland final since the horror that was 2008, questions arose over Derek McGrath’s future.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner on Wednesday, Derek McGrath highlighted his reasons for staying for one more roll of the dice.
This was despite the fact he’s previously made a decision at the beginning of 2017 that this would be his swan-song.
“I’d said to myself even at home that 2017 would be my final year, I’d confided that to a few people but I probably walked myself into a bit of a booby trap with the parental leave, publicising that, so I heaped pressure on us.”
However, after meeting with his panel, the former All-Ireland minor finalist decided he would stay on for his players.
“I wouldn’t be able to look them in the eye, even though you’ve given them four years, and a lot of years in school. In terms of one more year, though, you’d be able to look them in the eye no matter what happens.
“There’s been no real questioning what we do in four years with the players, which is a good sign of a tight unit.
“Plus there were issues — not with the board, but I was putting forward my plans for the league, and I’m not saying they were developmental, but there was a ‘can you live with the fact we might be defeated if we give A, B, or C a run in the league?’ as opposed to what we did last year.”
No doubt the people of Waterford will be delighted to see Derek McGrath give one more attempt at bringing home an historic All-Ireland title.
The Déise have arrived home each year since 1959 without Liam MacCarthy in their grasp, yet they’ve never been as close as they were in 2017.
Could 2018 finally be the year for the men from the men in the south-east?
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena