RTÉ ‘sweeper’ stunt slated

Derek McGrath has criticised the “sweeper” characterisation of Waterford on RTÉ’s Up For The Match programme on Saturday, writes John Fogarty.

McGrath felt the group were let down by the segment in the pre-All-Ireland final show where children in the Ferrybank GAA club used sweeping brushes to push around a sliotar and a baker referenced the “sweeper system” while brushing flour.

The Waterford manager felt it belittled the efforts of the team, caricaturing them.

Waterford manager Derek McGrath congratulates Galway's Joe Canning. Pic: Inpho

“Yeah, it was disappointing to see the ball being passed from brush to brush on national television. People might say I’m being over the top in criticising it but we’re better than that, I think, in Waterford. We’re better than passing a sliotar from brush to brush. I don’t think it was right but that’s just a personal opinion.”

Waterford, he feels, are fairer game than most counties (in terms of suffering criticism) but he complimented Davy Fitzgerald’s comments on the same programme about the structure both he and McGrath subscribe to. Fitzgerald has spoken strongly in favour of McGrath following Waterford’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Wexford.

McGrath said: “If you watched the second half of our game yesterday, when we played long it played into Galway’s hands at times... when the Galway half-forward line is back deep, when David Burke and Johnny Coen are back deep, there’s 90 yards of space for the Conor Whelans of this world, Niall Burke when he came on, Jason Flynn to kind of thunder into.

“I think there was a definite change in pundits’ mindsets and the detail of their analysis. I’m not saying after Davy had spoken but there is an acceptance that the game is evolving. Maybe other teams have been quieter about it and maybe I’ve been too vocal and open about discussions on it and maybe that has led to other managements saying, ‘Jesus, what’s he revealing that for?’

“Take the Kilkenny situation with how they played Walter Walsh this year as a kind of auxiliary midfielder. As I said before, Colm Galvin playing at the edge of the D as a defensive midfielder. Dan McCormack did it for Tipp. All the narratives that are there as opposed to the sweeper system.

“Even the language of commentators when they are talking, it’s ‘The Waterford sweeper’ but when it’s the language of someone else it’s ‘the extra midfielder’, it’s the man helping back. That’s only kind of irksome rather than something that’s in my mind for a long time.

“I’ve nothing more to say on it other than we believed in what we were doing and the lads believed in it as well. You have to be pragmatic as well and decide what’s best for your team on any given day.”

McGrath accepts what Waterford do is more “deliberate” with their use of Tadhg de Búrca but added: “I still have the 1992 and 1993 final in my mind with Pat O’Neill sitting back there for Kilkenny. I still have (Tony) Keady in the 1990 final, God be merciful to him, on Tomás Mulcahy in the first-half especially. I have Brian Hogan, I have...this year when Walter Walsh wasn’t followed down the field by Declan Hannon, I’ve Declan Hannon sitting at the edge of one D and Cillian Buckley sitting at the edge of the other D.

“We’d like to think we’re the ones making the most informed decisions because we’re working on it. It’s been a common trend of debate all along but I’m not willing to say anyone is wrong or whatever. It’s just about how you look at it. Jimmy McGuinness always says on the ad with Sky, it’s how you look at the game. There’s something in that.” McGrath has no hesitation in supposing where he would be had he adopted a more orthodox structure in 2015 when he began the style.

“I’d say I wouldn’t be in the job, that’s how it rolls in GAA circles at the moment. The voice of the outside seeps its way into the mentality of the people that matter in terms of decision-making. The thing about it is there’s an unorthodox nature to what a lot of the teams are doing.

“They’re probably disguising it that bit better than ourselves.” On the future of Michael Walsh, who turns 35 next April, McGrath expressed uncertainty but was effusive in his praise for the veteran.

“I don’t see why not (he can continue) in terms of his form, in terms of just his contribution all year. He’s been so, not steady, he’s been brilliant all year, like. He’s been brilliant. He’s had one of his best years, to be honest with you. I don’t see why not.

“Obviously the family situation, he has huge support at home. He’s so humble. It’s just the team is everything to him. That’s genuinely now. A lot of people come out afterwards and say, ‘oh, the team is everything,’ and there’s an ego at play, but there is absolutely no ego at play there.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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