Noel McGrath eager to end wait for a national league medal

Classy Tipperary forward expecting another close battle against old rivals Galway

 Galway’s Aidan Harte and Tipperary’s Noel McGrath at the Allianz Hurling League Division One final preview at Croke Park. Photograph:   Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Galway’s Aidan Harte and Tipperary’s Noel McGrath at the Allianz Hurling League Division One final preview at Croke Park. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

 

With Davy Fitzgerald now braced for at least some banishment from the sideline into the championship, Noel McGrath has suggested the Wexford manager’s pitch incursion in their hurling league semi-final against Tipperary at least gave his team a temporary lift. 

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s final – where Tipperary will face Galway – McGrath was asked to replay some of the madness of Fitzgerald suddenly bursting onto the field, moments after McGrath himself had scored Tipp’s controversial goal, after an apparent foul on Wexford’s James Breen in the build-up, forcing a key turnover, had been missed. 

“When you’re on the field, you can’t control whether it’s a free or not,” said McGrath, with perfect diplomacy. “You’re going to play until the whistle goes or whatever. 

“We got the goal and, look, whatever happened, happened. It was over and done with in 15 or 20 seconds. As a player, the only thing you’re worried about is the next ball, how you’re going to win it, and competing for the next ball. 

“It wasn’t until afterwards, and the morning after, that you see articles and see things on social media that you realise what did happen. Look, it’s done now. It’s a new week, we’re looking forward to a league final now and it’s not for us to worry about.” 

But did he feel Fitzgerald’s actions, coming midway through the first half, gave Wexford a lift? 

“Maybe they did. They got to within a few points at half-time. People use these things in different ways. 

“If that’s the way it worked for Wexford, then fair play to them. That’s what you have to do, you have to use small, little things to get you to perform the best you can. It was a really, really tough game. It was only in the last 10 minutes that we got the breaks and pulled away.” 

Then asked if Fitzgerald deserved to be punished (an eight-week suspension, the prescribed term for ‘physical interference with an opposition player’, would keep him off the sideline for two championship matches), McGrath replied: “It’s not for players or any county to decide that. That’s nothing to do with us. We’re getting ourselves ready for a league final on Sunday, and as I said already, what happened last weekend happened.” 

Big games

Whatever about giving Wexford lift, Fitzgerald’s carry-on probably took some of the spotlight off McGrath’s goal: he finished with 2-2 (as indeed did younger brother John). 

“Look, again, as a player, you just try and do the things you can control. That was just something that happened and you just have to get on with the game after that.” 

Indeed it wasn’t until the last 10 minutes that Tipp finally put Wexford away, McGrath reckoning that’s some reflection of their experience and self-belief.

“I suppose it does help playing in big games with big crowds, games that you are deciding if you’re in or out of the league or in or out of the championship. You just keep doing the things that you train to do which is winning the ball and getting it to the men in the right positions and doing the right things with the ball. 

“You wouldn’t have thought that with 10 minutes to go that we’d have won by 10 or 11 points. It wasn’t really a reflection of how the game had gone before that. It was tough, it was fast, it was really good hurling. You say you enjoy playing in those games but, sometimes, when you wake up the morning after, you mightn’t feel as good. It was a great game to be involved in and it was nice to get back to a league final again.” 

McGrath himself has played and lost in three league finals. Tipp haven’t won the title since 2008, and more so haven’t made a league final after winning an All-Ireland in 25 years. They also haven’t won a league after an All0Ireland since the 1960s. 

“When 2017 started, it was a new slate, with new lads involved who weren’t involved last year. That creates a different dynamic to the panel. We just set out at the start of the league to do as best we could and getting to the quarter-final was our first aim and when you get there you want to push on again.

“It’s a national title at the end of the day, one that hasn’t been won in Tipp since 2008 so everybody wants to win as much as they can while they are playing and that’s why you play. 

One interesting angle to Sunday’s game is that current Galway manager Michael O’Donoghue briefly worked with the Tipp backroom team, in 2014 and 2015, although McGrath didn’t think that gave him any inside track for Sunday.

 “I missed a lot of 2015, so I hadn’t too many dealings with him, but I just remember that any time he took maybe a bit of the training or a drill in training that he was very good and knew his hurling.

“That’s obviously one of the reasons he got in with Galway because of the way he is able to get a team going and he was manager of Clarinbridge I think when they won an All-Ireland club. So he has good pedigree there and anything we’ve seen from him was top drawer as well.

“I suppose you can talk as much as you want about what could happen or what this lad knows or whatever but I think once the ball is thrown in then a game just takes on a life of its own.”

 Just as last Sunday proved.

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