Ahead of this weekend’s Munster Hurling Final, Tribute Tuesday looks at Waterford hurler Ken McGrath. McGrath was one of the finest hurlers to play the game and seeing as its Munster final weekend, it is fitting to look at his contributions in detail.
When hurling is looked back on in later years, the greats will be remembered, but we wonder if Ken McGrath will receive the plaudits he deserves. A cynic will point out that he never won an All-Ireland medal, but that can be said about many great players. McGrath was a phenomenal player and here we pay tribute to his career.
He joined the Waterford senior hurling panel back in 1996 and went onto to have a stellar career in the Deise team. He had an underage pedigree with both Waterford and Mount Sion and the fortunes of Waterford hurling picked up considerably under Gerald McCarthy in the late 1990’s.
1998 was a year Waterford began to come to fruition with players like McGrath, Dan Shanahan, Paul Flynn and other beginning to make a stamp on the game of hurling. They reached a league final that year and followed it up with a Munster final appearance. McGrath was a key figure between midfield and half-forward.
2002 was the next big year for McGrath and Waterford as they entered the Munster championship as underdogs to most people. They faced Cork in the semi-final where an injured McGrath only added to Waterford’s underdogs tag. McGrath entered the fray before the end of the first half to rapturous applause.
Paul Flynn was Waterford’s main man that day, but the game was level going into stoppage time despite Waterford’s dominace. They launched one last attack and the ball fell to McGrath who split the posts to put Waterford into a Munster final.
Waterford faced Tipperary in that Munster final. The underdog tag was attached to Waterford again who put in an excellent performance inspired by Ken McGrath. McGrath hit seven points, all from play, as Waterford secured their first Munster title since 1963.
2004 saw a change for McGrath. Having played as a forward or a midfielder, Justin McCarthy decided to move him to centre-back. He took time but in the end it proved to be an inspired move. McGrath’s influence grew to a new level from the heart of the Deise defence.
The 2004 Munster final was provided two moments that basically defined McGrath as a centre-back. In the first half he hit an inspirational point from the bones of 100 yards at a time when Waterford were struggling.
Then in the final seconds, with Cork chasing a one point deficit, a long delivery was sent down the field only for McGrath to rise above everyone else and fetch the ball from the sky. He was fouled on landing and that was the moment that secured another Munster title in what many would classify as the greatest hurling game seen.
From then until the end of his career, McGrath was a picture of consistency in the number six jersey. Davy Fitzgerald did attempt to see if he was the answer to their full-back problems during the 2008 season, but a move back to centre-back for the All-Ireland semi-final, saw McGrath put in another big display as Waterford qualified for the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.
Unfortunately for Waterford and McGrath, that All-Ireland final will only be remembered for a Kilkenny masterclass. And it was a shame to see such a great player not perform on the biggest stage. But that being said, nobody could have lived with Kilkenny on that day.
So while McGrath may not receive the credit he deserves, we want to acknowledge Ken McGrath’s brilliance as a hurler. He may not have won an All-Ireland, but he could not have done much more in his quest to do so.
Any player who performs to such a high standard in a variety positions should always be appreciated. McGrath showed his ability at full-forward, centre-forward, wing-forward, midfield and centre-back.
In all of the positions mentioned above, he was an inspirational player. He just had that style that lifted the crowd and everything around him. He was always capable of something special and for these we want to pay tribute to the great Ken McGrath.