Double delight for John McGrath and Loughmore after momentous campaign

Dual club played for 17 weeks in a row to claim Tipperary county titles in both codes

John McGrath, Noel McGrath and Brian McGrath of Loughmore-Castleiney celebrate with the cup after the county final win over Thurles Sarsfields at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

John McGrath, Noel McGrath and Brian McGrath of Loughmore-Castleiney celebrate with the cup after the county final win over Thurles Sarsfields at Semple Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

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Michael Dempsey stopped to get diesel in Thurles. The former Laois football manager and Kilkenny hurling selector, who was physical trainer to eight of Brian Cody’s All-Ireland-winning teams, has been a selector this year with Tipperary double winners Loughmore-Castleiney.

Amidst the science and data of team preparation in Gaelic games, he has always argued the primacy of the psychological rather than the physical and key to that is enjoyment.

“I met a chap when I stopped in Thurles at a garage,” he says, “who used to play for them years ago and he said that ‘if we got knocked out of the championship in the summer, we’d continue to go to the field until Christmas to play games among ourselves’.

“Usually in a club, you’d get a sense of what their main sport is – underneath it all – but in Loughmore-Castleiney it’s very much, ‘No. We love the two games and this is what we do’.

“That’s why people play sport. The enjoyment and the challenge and finding out about themselves. Can we do it and put our best foot forward again every week we go out and can we fight to the bitter end. That’s what they pride themselves on.”

On Sunday, after a replay, Loughmore added the hurling to the Tipperary football title they had won a week previously. The small catchment area of about 1,000 people takes pride in overcoming the two big population centres of the football and hurling, Clonmel and Thurles.

Dempsey, who also chaired the GAA’s Talent Academy and Player Development Review Committee, got involved with Loughmore’s championship almost accidentally having been asked to help the club draw up an under-age plan.

“I’m always stressing psychological component but they’re in great condition. The two S+C guys, Murtagh [Brennan] and Martin [O’Connell] do a great job and a lot of them are in county panels and in very good shape.

“The big focus is on recovery and that bunch of players are very good to take on responsibility and to self-regulate. You don’t have to spoon-feed them. They take it on board and just go and do it.”

John McGrath, the Tipperary All-Ireland winner, was the late, late match-winner in both finals and he is almost blasé about how he and his team-mates have kept the show on the road for 17 successive weeks – an 18th coming next weekend in the Munster football championship.

“From the outside looking in, I suppose it’s something that a lot of people are fascinated with – how we manage it and what way we do it week to week.

Biggest challenge

“I don’t know. It’s very hard to put your finger on it but I suppose it’s only a couple of days. Maybe lads are tipping away at home but we’re on the road a while now and lads are used to it. I don’t think leaving the hurleys or the footballs down for a couple of days it’s going to impact hugely. I think it’s about getting the body right to and being ready to physically challenge every weekend.”

Dempsey elaborates on the weekly demands of playing football, hurling, football, hurling.

“Is it a challenge in terms of the physical? It is so there isn’t much done during the week so as I said it’s about recovery. Is it a challenge switching from one to the other in terms of playing a different game, against different opposition, communicating your key messages and systems?

“That’s the biggest challenge but very much player-driven. You only have to tell them once the areas for improvement and they drive it on.”

Loughmore lost both county finals last year, in injury-time. Reversing that was a fulfilling way to achieve their success but the defeats don’t appear to have provided primary motivation.

According to Dempsey, there were good reasons to steer clear of the past.

“They take the positives out of every situation. I would never have mentioned last year because that’s to create fear and anxiety so rather than being focused on process and performance, you’re thinking about what can go wrong. That’s not a good place to have your mind going into a match.”

McGrath agrees.

“Yeah, it’s not something that was hugely spoken about but I think everyone had it in the back of their minds. It’s some difference in 12 months.”

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