Noel McGrath cherishes both the good and bad days with Tipperary
Sunday will be his seventh All-Ireland senior hurling final, but for him it never gets old
Tipperary’s Noel McGrath in the Munster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Round 3 match between Tipp and Clare in Cusack Park, Ennis, Co Clare in June. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
When Noel McGrath says he looks back on the good days and the bad days with Tipperary and doesn’t get hung up on either, he’s not being abstruse. He simply has a slightly better appreciation of these things than most 28-year-olds.
Sunday will be his seventh All-Ireland senior hurling final, including a replay in 2014, and they’ve all been against Kilkenny. Tipperary have only won two of those, in 2010 and 2016, which means McGrath has had his greater share of bad days. Only he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Your life is now, and there’s nothing like living through All-Ireland final day.
He cherishes them all for what they are, the wins and the losses, the highs and the lows. He makes no secret either that part of this greater appreciation comes from four years ago, when he missed most of the 2015 championship while undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. He made one late cameo appearance, in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Galway, given a full standing ovation in the process.
“I’ve always loved my hurling, whether with the club or the county, but I suppose after that, it probably changed a small bit,” he says. “I am probably a little bit more carefree, as regards, you’re disappointed after you lose and happy when you win. Either way it has to be measured as well.
“So yeah, it probably changed it a small bit for me, but at the same time the desire and ambition is the same. You win as much as you can while you can. You treasure the good ones and get over the bad ones and go again, and we’re looking forward to another big day now.”
Far too young
McGrath has also won three All-Irelands at minor and under-21, making his senior debut in 2009 when still only 18. He still looks far too young to be considered one of the oldest Tipperary players, and yet he is, manager Liam Sheedy adding an extra layer of youth this season.
Every year you don’t know if you will get back there again. You want to make the most of it while you can
“Well, it doesn’t get old,” he says of All-Ireland final day. “You take as many as we can get. They do fly. And these weeks absolutely fly, but I know it might be a cliche but you have to enjoy it. It’s a bigger game and a bigger occasion than any other game you play but this is why you play.
“And it’s definitely there to be enjoyed and one you don’t know if you will ever get the chance to do it again. Every year you don’t know if you will get back there again. You want to make the most of it while you can. That would be my best advice to anyone going into these games. Enjoy the build-up. You have to be focused in what you want to do especially in regards to training and preparing. While you might want to treat it the same as anything else, it isn’t, like. It is an All-Ireland final. It’s unbelievable.”
On the subject of good days and bad days, McGrath rates the semi-final win over Wexford as right up there with the best of them, for a variety of reasons. It saw them overcome some lingering doubts after their Munster final defeat to Limerick, and also the disadvantage of being a man down from the 45th minute, after younger brother John McGrath was red-carded.
Still, playing to make some amends for his sibling hardly once came to mind.
“Regardless of who it is, he is not going to be the first or last person to be sent off. You have to plough on because if you let yourself go for a minute, the game is going to be over. It is part and parcel of the game and you get knocks, but you have to stay going and I think that is what we did. We showed serious character and I suppose along with that we had the skill to be able to do it.
‘Part and parcel’
“It’s not a nice place to be in [sent off] but is part and parcel of sport so we were all very happy at the end and I’m sure he was as well to get another opportunity.
“The game of hurling can change in the space of 30 seconds. We were down to 14 but on the pitch you do not get time to think, or start thinking about what are we going to do here, or feel sorry for yourself, because the game is over before you know it because it goes so quick.
The atmosphere that a big crowd brings to Croke Park and full stadiums cannot be matched
“So to be honest I don’t really know what I was thinking. You are just going for the next ball and believe you have a chance no matter what the difference in the scoring is. At times you can hardly hear a player that is 10 or 15 metres away from you, let alone what is going on out on the sideline. You just feed off the energy of the players around you. People often ask about the roars from the crowd but all you hear on the pitch is noise. That’s part of why you play. The atmosphere that a big crowd brings to Croke Park and full stadiums cannot be matched – it’s unbelievable and unlike any other feeling.”
McGrath’s Munster final showing was not one of his own better days, replaced before the end, yet his four points from midfield against Wexford promptly reversed that. He’s now scored 1-17 in the seven games to the final, and credits Sheedy’s sideline presence for at least part of Tipp’s renewed energy this season, in that “everybody responds to that and it pulls the whole team together”.
Some of his better days have also been in Munster, with special mention going to the 2012 Munster semi-final win over Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“Tipp went there in 2008 and won for the first time in, was it 80-something years? We went in 2010 and we were hammered, to come back in 2012, and it was my first time to get there, so that was nice. But if I sit down and write out from one to 10, it would be hard to do.”
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship: 2010, 2016
Munster Senior Hurling Championship: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016
Waterford Crystal Cup: 2012, 2014
All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling Championship: 2010
Munster Under-21 Hurling Championship: 2008, 2010
All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship: 2006, 2007
Munster Minor Hurling Championship: 2007