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HURLING: McGRATH GOES BACK TO FRONT FOR A BUST-UP WITH BANNER; HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP: Clare v Waterford, Sunday, 3.30 Decies star Ken makes a case for defence.. and attack.

Byline: Jackie CAHILL

WATERFORD star Ken McGrath will remain in the half back line for Sunday's crunch Munster Championship opener against Clare at Semple Stadium.

Many Waterford fans had called for McGrath to return to the half forward line after the attack completely misfired in last Sunday's league final against Galway.

Apart from Dan Shanahan, Waterford had no effective ball winner up front but McGrath will remain at the back for the Thurles showdown with the Banner County.

He's been named at left half back but from the throw-in, he's sure to swap places with Tony Browne, named at centre back.

McGrath admitted yesterday that he was aware of the clamour for his return to attack but insisted he's happy in a more defensive role.

"I'm enjoying my hurling, I didn't hit as much ball as usual last Sunday but I'm happy enough to be playing regularly because of the injuries over the last few years," said McGrath.

"It's up to the management to decide what to do - a lot of people want me up front but the half back line is a more free role.

"Before Sunday everybody was happy enough but now we lost everybody wants to throw me up," he added.

He'll start on his own 40 on Sunday but with Tinkerman boss Justin McCarthy, you never quite know where players will actually line up.

So although McGrath will hurl at the back early doors, don't rule out a move forward if the Decies are in trouble.

"I'm happy enough either way and I'm enjoying my hurling more than I did last year," he said.

"I'm quite content if they throw me up because it's a natural position up there for me - either way I can't complain."

With McGrath starting at the back on Sunday, Dan Shanahan is the target for the majority of Stephen Brenner's puckouts on Sunday and was last night named at right half forward.

The burly attacker hurled up a storm in the league final and McGrath said: "Dan had a great game on Sunday. I'm delighted for him because he trains hard, he's a committed lad but gets a lot of stick.

"He produced the goods on Sunday and the whole team was delighted for him - if he can produce again with John Mullane, Paul Flynn and Eoin Kelly, that's a good forward line.

"If they all play well, you might not hear as much talk about throwing me up there."

As far as McGrath's concerned, last Sunday's league final defeat is now history.

"A league final is a league final so we had to give it a lash," said the Mount Sion clubman.

"Galway were on form and we seemed dead on our feet. They took advantage and won the game fairly easily in the end."

Playing Clare just a week later can be seen in one of two ways - too soon or the ideal opportunity to bounce back.

"Other years we lost games we shouldn't have and had to wait a year, maybe 18 months for another crack at it," said McGrath.

Sparks are sure to fly on the hallowed Semple Stadium sod following explosive Championship battles in 1998 and 2002.

McGrath said: "We played each other three times over the last six years, we know what to expect and I reckon it will be a great game.

"The league final was a bonus, we tried to win it but the Championship on May 16 is what we've been looking forward to since last November.

"We were down - a lot of us played poorly but straight after the game we had a chat in the dressing room and that was it.

"We were so poor last Sunday, some people are probably wondering about whether or not to go to Thurles.

"But we have no pressure now, the game against Clare is a do or die game - we can't wait for it and after last Sunday's performance we can't play any worse."

WATERFORD: S Brenner, J Murray, T Feeney, E Murphy, B Phelan, T Browne, K McGrath, D Bennett, E Kelly, D Shanahan, M Walsh, E McGrath; J Mullane, S Prendergast, P Flynn.

CAPTION(S):

MASTER McGRATH: Decies Ken McGrath; STARS: Martin Comerford holds the McCarthy Cup at yesterday's Championship launch
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 14, 2004
Words:710
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