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Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath pictured at the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign at Croke Park. 
Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath pictured at the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign at Croke Park. 

Noel McGrath says hurling is evolving quickly

By John Harrington

Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath believes last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-finals offered further proof that hurling as a sport has evolved in recent years.

A whopping total of 7-123 was scored over the course of the two extra-time matches while, incredibly, there was an average of just over one shot at goal every minute.

The average number of points scored in Championship matches has been rising steadily year on year, and McGrath believes it’s already a different game now than it was when he made his senior inter-county debut back in 2009.

“Ah look the game is changing the whole time, it's like anything in life, it's evolving and people find different ways of doing things,” said McGrath yesterday at the launch of the ‘Drink Less, Gain More’ campaign.

“It probably definitely has changed, scoring wise at the weekend here was just absolutely crazy, it was just score after score after score.

“I think that has been a feature of this year's Championship in a good few games. But look, there could game a game in the next few weeks where it doesn't happen like that.

“I think it probably has evolved and changed to a place where it's a lot more free-flowing. Players are moving around the field a lot quicker.

“I suppose the Kilkenny team that were so good for a period of 15 years brought a lot of physicality to it and teams had to maybe adapt and try something different to get around that.

“I think maybe now it's changed to more of a running style game where the players are a lot faster and the ball is moving a lot quicker.”

This is only the second season in McGrath’s 10-year inter-county career to date that he hasn’t played in an All-Ireland SHC semi-final, and he has found it difficult to watch the Championship from a distance after Tipperary failed to progress from Munster.

Tipperary's Noel McGrath celebrates after scoring a goal against Cork in the 2018 Munster SHC Championship. 
Tipperary's Noel McGrath celebrates after scoring a goal against Cork in the 2018 Munster SHC Championship. 

The only consolation for the 27-year-old is that the jealousy he felt watching the Galway, Clare, Cork, and Limerick hurlers over the weekend proves his own appetite for playing at the highest level remains undiminished.

“That’s the reason you train and play - to be out there on the big days - and when you see the excitement you are jealous of the other teams,” he admitted.

“You want to be out there and be involved but unfortunately we are not.

“But, look it would make you hungrier coming back and you’d nearly want it to be January already so you can get around to starting again.

“As long as you have that feeling of being jealous and the appetite to be performing in the big matches that means the hunger is still there.

“As long as that is there for me I’d be happy to stay going for as long as you are able.

“That’s one of the main things - the appetite and hunger for the matches - and for me personally I definitely feel that is still there.”

When McGrath first arrived on the scene in 2009 the hurling landscape was very different then to what it is now.

Kilkenny were out in front and everyone else was playing catch-up.

But McGrath now believes we’re in an era where the field of genuine challengers for silverware is a packed one who are all pretty much neck and neck.

“I think the last few weeks have shown there’s up to eight or nine teams that are able to compete at a very high level,” said McGrath.

“There are a lot of teams that could beat each other on a given day depending on how they perform and we have seen with all the championship matches this year.

“Very few of them have been won by big margins, they have been tight and decided in the last five or ten minutes.

“Look at Cork-Limerick and how close that was. With ten minutes to go you’d say Cork were going to see it out and they ended losing in extra time so it is very, very competitive.

“It’s good for hurling the way the championship has gone this year and the matches have been so exciting and long may it continue, it’s a game we all enjoy and love watching and hopefully it will continue to get better.”

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