Premier leader determined to point the way to better days
“Normally around here or around anywhere in the county, the first thing people say to you when they meet you is, ‘Sure, how did that happen?’ or maybe even just, ‘How are ye going?’ But when you’re away and nobody knows a thing about you, the first thing they ask is, ‘Where are you from? What do you do?’ That was nice, just to answer those simple questions for a change.”
Not everybody had that option, of course. His team-mates found themselves rotating on a spit for a few months, with slices taken off them in bar-rooms and chat-rooms throughout the county. McGrath knows it comes with the territory to a certain extent but was still taken aback by depth and ferocity of it.
The Tipp hurlers were accused of everything from under-training to never-caring to the sort of hair-down binges that would put the Rolling Stones to shame. The flames licked up around them and the singes haven’t fully healed just yet.
“It was hard,” he says. “But look, we know inside how much we put into it. Realistically, the only people who know how much we put in and how hard we go at this are our families, close friends and the girlfriends and wives.
“They’re the people who see us day-in, day-out for who were are. And I mean who we are as people, not as hurlers. They see that you have good days and bad days. Maybe some of these people who were abusing us should think twice, or maybe even follow us around for a fortnight or three weeks. Come with us and see how much we put into it.
“We love doing it, don’t get me wrong. We love doing it and time is short. An intercounty career is nine, 10 years max with the amount of training you have to do. These people, maybe they don’t mean what they’re saying and maybe they don’t feel those things as strongly as they come across. But they still say them and no matter what age you are – young or old – the words can hurt you. Maybe it would be no harm if they came training with us for two or three weeks to see what we do and live our lives day in and day out.
“I mean, I’d often pass by a chipper and I’d love to go in. But you don’t go in. You make that choice not to go in. You make the choice to go to the gym. You do it because that’s your life. It’s easy to talk, you know?”
The winter talk is easing off now and tonight in Páirc Uí Rinn, he’ll slope off from the warm-up to shake Michael Wadding’s hand and face the toss. Heads or tails, it won’t be the end of the world. On a cold February night, it’ll just be a beginning of the season. Of the year, of his captaincy, of the rest of his Tipperary days. Whatever happens, he’d like to think he’d be unreal at it.