Pat's the way to beat champs

September 01, 2008
Legendary Waterford star Pat McGrath will watch his sons Ken and Eoin line out against Kilkenny in the upcoming All-Ireland SHC final. He is "fairly confident" deliverance for the Deise is on the way. Pat McGrath quips that he "can die happy" if Waterford upset the odds and beat Kilkenny in this year's hurling final. Meanwhile his sons Ken and Eoin can be expected to die for the cause. McGrath senior played for the Deise in the 'seventies and his defensive exploits are still fondly recalled among the white and blue hoardes. McGrath goes into the biggest match of the year hell bent on winning the Celtic Cross which eluded his father way back yonder. The McGrath clan boast Waterford city roots and strong ties to the famed Mount Sion club. From where they're perched, Kilkenny hurling has been on their radar all their lives. A five minute spin is all it takes to bring Pat to Moincoin territory. Twenty minutes down the road and Ballyhale Shamrocks headquarters is at hand. "For us, the games with Kilkenny have always been the top games; it's the big derby and it doesn't get any better than playing them in an All-Ireland final. "It's one thing playing them in the final but beating them is another thing. It would be really special if we did surprise them." One-time top dog McGrath, the elder, has several bones to pick with the Cats for back 35 years ago it was the black and ambers who broke his heart. Pat was the Deise captain when they overcame Clare in the 1973 U21 Munster final and then Antrim in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final. However things fell asunder for McGrath and co thereafter in the All-Ireland final with a Billy Fitzpatrick-inspired Kilkenny side once more playing the part of party-poopers. Waterford these days, McGrath senior says, exude the same Olympian spirit of yore and generate the same romantic dream of achieving glory against the odds. But what's the chances of his sons avenging that defeat suffered by his father in this year's biggest hurling game? "I'm confident enough that they'll win," the 55 year ex-Waterford Glass company employee says. "They've gotten themselves into the final and I don't think they'll let us down. "They're all good hurlers and there's a great spirit among them. If they get the rub of the green, Kilkenny could be in trouble." Not that the former star defender begins to underestimate the task facing the raging hot underdogs at Croke Park in the days ahead. McGrath hails Brian Cody's team as "true champions and fantastic hurlers whose record speaks for itself and everyone knows their form." "Kilkenny will go into the game under a bit of pressure because of the three-in-a-row thing and that might help us out but Waterford won't be afraid of them. "We beat them in the league final not so long ago and early this year we beat them in the Tom Cheasty memorial cup which will have done the players' confidence the world of good. "But an All-Ireland final is a whole different ball game and like most finals, it'll all boil down to what happens on the day but hopefully things will go well for us." For Waterford to achieve the mother and father of all upsets, Pat reckons a turbo-charged start for the outsiders and a steel blanket in front of the goal is required. "The first 20 minutes will be very important. If we can get a few scores on the board and not leak any goals in that time, it'll be half the battle. "It's crucial that we don't give them a handy goal. We fell asunder against Clare after being careless and we have to be careful not to give Kilkenny any leeway up front. "Getting to half-time in the final without giving away too much is very important because that'll give us confidence and put some seeds of doubt in their minds." Conceding that his wife Anne will join him in viewing the match with finger and everything else crossed, Pat is happy that son Ken is comfortable at full-back or centre-back. Pointedly, McGrath senior reckons his offspring is well capable of hitting the high notes in the number three jersey but . . . . "To my mind, he's capable of having more of an influence on the game when playing at centre-back; the manager would get more out of him if he was wearing the number six jersey. "When he's on the edge of the square, he's not in the thick of things and can't really help out the attack like the way he can when he lines out at centre-back, like the last game. "I'm not picking the team and I'm sure Davy Fitzgerald and his selectors know best and will have their tactics and team plan worked out well before the ball is thrown in. "Against Antrim, Offaly and Wexford, Ken held his own and hopefully wherever he lines out, he'll acquit himself well and the team will see him at his best in the final." Still as passionate about the game as he was when in his hey-day for Mount Sion and the Deise' finest, the legendary McGrath rates Waterford's Class of 2008 very highly. In particular, he's hugely impressed by the degree of skill in the team, the players' mobility, grit and versatility and their sheer naked ambition to finally get their hands on the holy grail. And can we expect a final to match the quality of the fare served up in the teams' respective semi-finals? "I don't see why not. I have an inkling that it'll be a cracker but a really tense affair at the same time which might make it a wee bit of a scrappy affair early on. "Like every all-Ireland, it's certain to be a great occasion and the team won't lack for support in the ground and then, as they say, there's likely to be 30 other counties rooting for them. "But the players will have to do the business themselves, with or without most of the support, and they're going to have to play out of their skin to win the day." So how good are the Cats? As good as he has seen since he made his senior intercounty debut in 1971? "Kilkenny are a great outfit, so strong all around the team, in every position they can call on great players who've proven themselves time and time again. "They have so many quality players that can turn a game on its head and it would be hard to think of better players than the likes of Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Cha. "They're up there with the best that's ever been around. Their record says it all and I don't think the kind of performance we produced against Tipp will be good enough to beat them. "The bounce of the ball went our way at different times in the semi-final but, in fairness, the team was due the rub of the green. "I still think we will have to be firing on all cylinders to win the Liam McCarthy Cup but if the players all play to their potential and try their level best then they can't be criticised no matter what the result." The seven-time Waterford SHC medallist and erstwhile team-mate of current Carlow hurling boss Jim Greene believes the upcoming final will prove a great advert for the game. He is fulsome in his praise for the standard of skill, fitness and team-work exhibited ordinarily at the highest level these days although he feels the art of overhead striking has largely been posted missing in modern times. Although he is wont to put the Cats on a pedestal, Pat says he has eyed a slight chink in their armour while acknowledging that the display of Brian Cody's charges in their semi-final as "awesome." "Overall Cork weren't at their best in the semi-final but I think the Cork forwards in particular were poor against Kilkenny and I'd like to think our lads will have a better time of it against the Kilkenny defence. "Whether or not they get enough scores to do the business is another thing but I'm fairly confident they'll manage it."

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