Dan Shanahan’s comments criticising Davy Fitzgerald caused barely a ripple in the GAA world, both because Dan’s utterances on all manner of topics are legion and thus carry about as much novelty value as a cliché from Alan Shearer, and because he is retired and not likely to be accused of staging a putsch against the manager pro tempore.
But when Ken McGrath decides to vent on the subject . . . well, it didn’t cause much of a ripple either, although that’s probably because it was lost in the buildup to the senior football final. It certainly wouldn’t be because he is retired or that he can be dismissed as inclined to shoot from the hip. When Ken decided to comment on the fallout from the defenestration of Justin McCarthy in 2008, he had the good sense to do so after beating Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final and before the Kilkenny match, and he was very generous in his assessment:
We won three Munsters and a League with Justin and we can’t forget that too easily. Where we came from a few years ago – you know we were playing Division Two in 96/97. We give great credit to Justin but times move on, things move on. We all have great time for Justin and good respect for him and I’m sure he’s happy for us today.
So when Ken speaks, you pay attention. And having paid attention, I think Ken has gotten this one wrong. It’s all very well saying Waterford had “a reputation for playing an open brand of hurling” but that habit was occasionally exactly what cost us so dear in so many games, most notably against Limerick in 2007 when a clearly inferior team caught us on the hop and there was no plan B. And as for trying “to beat Tipperary playing only one forward – John Mullane”, this was hardly the game plan. The plan was not for Eoin Kelly to slide back alarmingly from the peaks he has scaled over the years, or for the entire half-forward to be completely slaughtered by their Tipperary opponents. There’s nothing Davy could have done with either of those two scenarios other than shuffle some personnel, and bar bringing (ahem) Ken McGrath on earlier, it’s hard to see what he could have done to mitigate those circumstances.
Of course, better analysts than me would agree that Davy is tactically suspect. Proinnsias Breathnach, in a letter to the Munster Express, did not pull his punches and in case you were wondering who is when he is at home, look no further than his home. But even if Ken were right in his criticisms, that doesn’t make it okay to throw the dig in at this point. It might have the virtue of honesty – it’s more principled that he say it now rather than after he has been given the heave -ho when it would look like being wise after the event – but we really could do without having a go at each other in public. The logic behind employing outside managers is to avoid the parish-pump politics that has infested Waterford GAA over the years. It would be supremely ironic if a personality clash led either to the removal of an outside manager or (gulp) the retirement of one of our greatest ever players.