Noel McGrath's triumph over adversity
By John Harrington
This time last year, all of Croke Park stood together to applaud Noel McGrath when he came on as a substitute for Tipperary against Galway in the All-Ireland Semi-Final.
The Loughmore man had underwent surgery for testicular cancer just four months previously, so his return to duty for Tipp really was a triumph over adversity.
It looked like his comeback would have a Hollywood ending when he shot Tipperary into the lead with a 70th minute point, but Galway spoiled the party with two late scores that won the match.
McGrath might have ended up on the losing team, but he was a winner in everyone’s eyes. A year on, he’s philosophical about what he went through last summer.
“I suppose you just have to get on with it and deal with it the best way you can,” he says. “For a while sport wasn't the main focus. Obviously getting back to full health was. Once you get a clearer picture of how things are going, obviously you can get it into your mind about getting back playing.
“I didn't know how quick it was going to happen, but form early in the time I knew that I would have been able to get back playing at some part in the next whatever months or year. For it to happen as quick as it did, I was delighted.
“Obviously your health is number one, you have to look after that first. But I suppose the reason we play hurling and sport is because you love it and enjoy it.
“There's a lot of things that can be done in life, but sport is the heartbeat of a lot of places in Ireland, whatever sport it is. It was always something I would have aimed to try to get back at. I didn't know if I would have been able, but thankfully I was.
“I wasn't sure how it was going to go, how things would pan out for me. Thankfully I was able to. But I suppose I was just delighted to be able to get the chance again. In the weeks and months leading into it you just weren't sure whether you'd even be able to go back training or that. So I was just delighted to be able to get back playing.”
McGrath has no recollection of the ovation he received when he came on as a sub and then when he hit that point in last year’s semi-final. He was too immersed in the contest on the pitch to be aware of what was happening in the stands.
When he thinks of that match now, it’s simply the fact that Tipperary lost it that sticks out in his mind’s eye. He’s no stranger to crushing defeats in a Tipperary jersey, but that was an especially sore one because it ended the reign of manager Eamon O’Shea.
“Yeah look he put in a lot of work with us the three years that he was involved, unfortunately the success didn't come, that's just sport and life, it's tough to get to the top in any walk of life whether it's work or sport or business whatever it is,” says McGrath.
“The hard work had been going in, unfortunately we didn't get there but I suppose we're a year on now, 2016 and a lot has changed, we're in a different place, two different teams will be going out on the field and both will be looking to get to an All-Ireland final again.”
Tipperary haven’t won an All-Ireland title in the five years following 2010 success, which would have been a difficult prediction to believe had someone made it at the time.
Along with players like Brendan Maher, Paudie Maher, Seamus Callanan, and Mickey Cahill, McGrath also won an U-21 All-Ireland in 2010 and their generation was hailed as a gilded one.
They’ve suffered a lot of disappointment since then, but it’s a testament to their resolve that they keep coming back with their resolve intact year after year.
“That's (2010) a long time ago now and you go year on year trying to get to the top which is ultimately winning an All-Ireland,” says McGrath. “It's that motivation for success, everyone wants to be out in Croke Park in September again and that's what keeps driving you year after year after year, you just keep going, you love playing hurling and you love playing sport and it's part of it being involved in big days, Semple Stadium, Croke Park, Limerick wherever it may be, I think that's what drives players to keep coming back and playing for Tipp or whatever county.
“That's just the way it is, time moves on, people move on and players move on, you just have to keep going with whatever is there. A few lads are after coming in around 20, 21 and 22 after making a big impact this year and for the rest of us that are in our mid to late 20s it's up to us to help bring them along.
“Lads brought us along when we started. You've a good mix of lads with experience and youth coming in there so I think there's been a good blend so far this year.”