Derek McGrath stepped down as manager of the Waterford senior hurlers this summer after five years in charge. While 2018 was ultimately a year to forget for McGrath and his young team, the progress made in his time in charge was astronomical and has made McGrath a household figure in the GAA.
Making the All-Ireland final in 2017 was an obvious highlight, but add to that a first a Championship win over Kilkenny since 1959, a League title, and the evolution of some of the most exciting players in the game, and it's a period of progress for Waterford that has seldom been matched.
As part of the our #WeAreHurling series in partnership with Centra, we went down to visit McGrath in his classroom in De La Salle College, where he teaches English.
McGrath's decision to step down, the misconceptions about his team's style of play, the closeness of his Waterford panel, and their relationship to the people of the county were all part of the conversation, but it was his satisfaction in remembering two great moments from last year's brilliant odyssey that really brought out what he got from the job.
Coming down the stretch with a big lead against Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final was a moment of immense personal satisfaction, but it was ending Waterford's hoodoo against Kilkenny a few weeks before that really stood out in his memory.
Waterford were by far the better team on that day, but nearly threw it away, surviving to make extra-time. It was during the break before the restart that McGrath says he made one of his best managerial decisions, and showed that the game is ultimately a learning experience for all involved, including the manager.
I think the night we beat Kilkenny last year, the sense of trust in the panel, I suppose.
I remember we went in after normal time, having had a nine point lead and it was evaporated. We went in and our body language as a management was a disgrace, let by myself. We just went in with our heads in our toes and the feeling was that we would go back to the first 15, and make changes again.
We just steadied ourselves as a management and we said, "Listen, we've been espousing about the merits of a panel for the last four years. We've got to go with the boy we've got in. Let's just leave them at it." So I just delighted with that we trusted Tommy Ryan, we trust Brian O'Halloran, we trusted the lads who had come on that night.
The trust came in just a fleeting moment. I'd love to be able to say we planned that absolutely meticulously beforehand saying "Oh the panel will get us over the line!" It just dawned on us, and we just like an epiphany moment, you know, we said "feck it like, we go ahead with that now and we'll stick with the lads and I think that was a moment for us to even be tighter if that was possible to be tighter going forward into the next round, because fellas got their moment and they took their chance.
Derek McGrath's absence from the Championship next season will leave a hole, given the impact he's had on the game over the last five years. His contributions to The Sunday Game since he left his position in Waterford have been lauded, but it's still anyone's guess where he might end up, or what he might be doing come next season.
I don't want to ever enter the bracket of one of the cute ones either, you know, that kind of just away from the game in a manner that, you know, you have the handy life. A lot of the speeches I have to the lads over the years have been centred on the easy life or the hard life, with the easy life being not challenging yourself and staying in your comfort zone.
I won't stay in my comfort zone too long.
Derek McGrath was the latest guest in our #WeAreHurling series with Centra. We'll have the next installment later this week with Tipperary's Pádraic Maher.