For any premier level county, let alone the Premier county, 11 months seems an inordinate length of time to go between Championship games.
Yet that’s the position that Noel McGrath and Tipperary found themselves in after last year’s thrilling Munster Championship left them done, dusted, and on the sidelines, without a win, by June 10. But while the provincial format introduced last year makes that sort of scenario a clear and present danger, the benefits it brings far outweigh the risk of that situation arising again, according to the Loughmore-Castleiney club-man.
“If you’re not good enough to come out of the group after four matches, then you’ve only yourself to look at. We had four matches to get out of Munster and we didn’t win one of them, so you can have no complaints,” he said.
“It’s a very fair system, it gives everyone a chance to perform. It’s enjoyable, because you’ve matches very close to each other. If you have an off day, you get a chance fairly soon to put it right. That’s what players want.
“But it is hard when you’re gone so early. You want to be there come the business end of the championship; every team does. So, that’s why you go back at it again. That chance, that opportunity to win again and be successful. It’s hard looking on, but it comes around again quicker than you think.”
The early exit was a long way from the glorious highs of McGrath’s first days on the panel, which saw an All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny in the legendary 2009 decider, and an All-Star backed up by a first Celtic Cross in 2010, all before he’d left his teens.
It’s almost a case of going back to the future on Sunday, with the triumphant 2010 campaign also beginning with a clash against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
But that Munster quarter-final was a chastening experience for Tipp, as the Rebels recorded a 10-point win.
Although Tipp rallied to eventually lift Liam MacCarthy that September, McGrath believes the new structure leaves less scope to come back from an opening loss.
“Look, it’s a long time ago and I suppose, back then, we were well-beaten that day in Cork,” he continued.
“It was probably hard to see it that afternoon, but, at the same time, we knew we weren’t that bad and we just underperformed on the day. We were lucky to get ourselves right for the rest of the year and we were successful.
“Defeats happen and how you respond from them is what counts, because if you keep looking back at defeats or wins, the next game will be gone before you know it.
“It is important to get off to a good start, but every team will be trying to do that. I think there was only one team who lost their first match last year that came out of the two groups, which was Clare. So, that just shows how important it is. Whatever happens in Cork on Sunday, we have Waterford coming to Thurles the Sunday after and you need to be prepared for that.
“At the moment, you prepare yourself to be right for May 12, and, after that, it takes on a life of its own.”
Another throwback to past glories sees Liam Sheedy, the man who gave McGrath his debut and led Tipp to that success, back at the helm. And while a decade may have passed since that first call-up, it’s still clear the gratitude the 28-year-old corner-forward has for the man who gave him his break.