Noel McGrath: 'I'm not going to let the day pass me'
By John Harrington
There can be no doubt now that generation of Tipperary hurlers who have won two All-Irelands this decade and are gunning for a third on Sunday are something very special.
The likes of Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Paudie Maher, Brendan Maher, and Patrick Maher will long be remembered as some of the greatest servants to ever wear the blue and gold.
The reason they’re still pushing so hard in the twilight of their careers isn’t just down to their obvious ability.
As Noel McGrath attests to, they’ve developed a real Band of Brothers bond over the years that is driving them on together to really leave their legacy in stone.
“Yeah, we have (a great bond) alright,” said McGrath. “It probably all started in '06 winning the minor. I think Seamie and Brendan might have been there the year before too.
“There's been a lot going on all of those years and it's good to have that sort of bond with lads. And to be still going together is good.
“Look, you become friends with them, you become great friends with them. Both on and off the field. It's just nice to have that bond and it definitely helps when you play together on the field.”
It surely had a big part to play in Tipperary’s stirring All-Ireland semi-final victory over Wexford.
When they were reduced to 14 men and down by five points early in the second-half, you wondered were you watching the end of an era for the Premier County.
But instead their veterans led a remarkable fight-back that saw them claim victory against the odds.
McGrath is in no doubts that the bonds of friendship that tie them together make a vital difference when the need is greatest.
“I think it does, yeah, it definitely helps, the fact that you have that bond there with lads because you'll help each other out no matter what,” he said.
“You'd probably do that anyway, but I think that helps it a bit extra as well.
“I think in any sport the more friendly you are off the field it always helps on the field as well.”
Many hurling analysts and even some Tipperary supporters were quick to write off McGrath’s generation after the Premier County’s failure to win a single match in last year’s Munster Championship.
“You'd hear it and people will say different things, but if you were to let different things like that get to you...like I said, it's just part and parcel of sport,” said McGrath.
“Some people praise you and some people criticise you.
“I don't think you're ever as good as people say and you're probably never as bad as people say either.
“Look, you have to prepare yourself and do what's best for your team, for the whole group, and once you know that you're doing the best you can then I think you can't do anything more.
“Once you're happy with yourself that you're preparing right and giving it everything you can, then what people say outside I don't think really matters.”
Last year’s disappointment only made McGrath and his peers on the Tipperary team all the more determined to prove they could still cut it at the highest level.
In the weeks and months after their early Championship exit they had a number of conversations about what they needed to do to bounce back in 2019.
“You would, you'd be meeting lads at different places and having chats,” said McGrath.
“You'd be hoping it would go better or asking what we should be doing differently.
“They're the conversations you have and then with the group of U-21s that came in they really energised the thing as well and added big time to it so that gave us a great energy-lift.
“The competition they brought pushed everyone on and it's great to have it.”
Despite the character that Tipperary showed against Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final, some still see fit to question it.
Former Kilkenny hurler, Jackie Tyrrell, suggested this week that McGrath would struggle on Sunday against his likely marker Conor Browne if the game was brought “into the trenches where it’s tight and physical.”
McGrath is one of the most skilful hurlers in the game, but his physicality over the ball is still clearly under-appreciated by some.
He’s a mentally durable character as well, and is hugely excited rather than unnerved by the challenge of trying to win his third All-Ireland senior medal on Sunday.
“The way I look at it, this is why I train, this is why I play, so I'm not going to let the day pass me by being nervous and worrying about it,” said McGrath.
“If you prepare right and get everything right I think you'll be fine on the day.
“Since I was a kid it's all I've ever wanted to do. To be part of these occasions and looking forward to them is great.
“The more chances I get to go out in Croke Park with a Tipp jersey on my back, I'll take them every day I can.”