Loughmore-Castleiney was rocked to its core when Eddie Connolly took ill after playing in the win over Borrisoleigh at the end of last month.
Tipperary’s All-Ireland IHC-winning captain last year, Connolly was brought to Cork University Hospital where a growth was detected on his brain. Having had a successful operation, the defender is awaiting results but the outlook is looking brighter than in the initial days when a special mass was held for him.
Later that week, he was in touch with the footballers to wish them the best ahead of their senior county championship quarter-final game against Arravale Rovers.
They pulled off an extra-time victory to advance to a last-four clash with Clonmel Commercials on Sunday week.
Ahead of tomorrow’s senior hurling final against Nenagh Éire Óg, he paid a visit to training on Wednesday evening.
“It was a blessing it was detected,” says senior selector and former Tipperary midfielder Noel Morris.
“He had the operation last Saturday, came through and was alert straight away. He’s been thanking people on Facebook and Twitter and it’s all positive.
“He’s still part of the set-up, he’s still there but I’d say he’s more disappointed that he’s not lining out.
“After the initial shock, people got the grips with it and understood it can be treated and it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s galvanised people.”
Connolly, a member of Tipperary’s 2011 senior panel, will be missed in Thurles tomorrow afternoon but this remains a Loughmore-Castleiney team punctuated with promise on one hand and experience on the other.
Guys like David Kennedy fall into the latter category. Tipperary’s centre-back in the 2001 All-Ireland success and later a Kildare player, the evergreen veteran is playing his hurling around the middle and half-forwards now.
“He’s 38 in February and worth his weight in gold,” says his former club and county team-mate Morris. “He gave an exhibition of football (in the county quarter-final) last Friday night.
“He’s been a massive servant to Loughmore and there’s no finish in sight for him any time yet. He was a pleasure to play alongside, such an unselfish player.
“Once you know he’s going to give you the ball, it makes things a lot easier. It’s worth an extra score or two at times because he’s going to find the player in the better position.”
Then there is the McGrath clan who have been contributing in spades to the club beyond 1988 when Pat, former Tipperary player and father of current county star Noel and John and uncle of Liam, was whipping up a storm in leading Loughmore-Castleiney to their first Dan Breen Cup.
Six McGraths in total feature on the team. “Everyone knows without them we would struggle,” admits Morris. “The club is their life. Hurling and football is in their blood.”
Morris feels Noel has profited a lot from being available to the club since July, when Tipperary exited the All-Ireland qualifiers.
“When counties are going strong, the clubs are usually going just as strong but it’s been great to have him around as much as we have this year.
“From 2007, he’s been under such an intense regime playing minor, U21s, college and senior as well as football and hurling for the club, and had no real break.
“Behind the scenes, I’d said he’s enjoyed the extra few months playing for the club. I can’t speak for him but he’s a massive club man. He gets disgusted if he misses a football training session.”
On a grander scale, Morris feels the knockout nature of the mid-Tipperary championship has helped a dual club like Loughmore-Castleiney make a better stab in both codes at senior level this year.
“The two games can complement each other at times but then they can be negative too when you have consecutive weekends of football and hurling and you’re drawing from the same pool of players.
“It has its downside but the fact there were less matches in mid-Tipp this year meant we were able to cope with more. It hasn’t been more of a strain.”
Loughmore-Castleiney come into the decider fresher than Nenagh who had to come through a semi-final replay over Kildangan last weekend. But there were some areas of concern for Morris in the win over Borrisoleigh and he knows the quality of the scalps Nenagh have taken this year.
“We would have been disappointed giving away the two goals.
“We always seem to be that bit ahead and responded well to those scores but we won’t get that chance against Nenagh. I don’t think they’ll sit back on anything.
“Nenagh have beaten Drom-Inch and (Thurles) Sarsfields on their way to the final. Those two teams have won the last four championships.
“Mid-Tipperary is extremely competitive but when you see Nenagh doing that, you get a full picture of what you’re up against.”