Noel McGrath has admitted that retaining the All-Ireland remains a huge ambition and rubbished claims that previous Tipperary teams he was involved in didn’t try hard enough to do so. McGrath, the PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for August following his man-of-the-match display in Tipperary’s All-Ireland final, was also part of the county’s 2010 and 2016 triumphs.
Tipp failed to retain the title in 2011 and 2017 and even Liam Sheedy acknowledged in early 2017 that “we’re not a county that does back to back very well”. Sheedy wasn’t in charge of Tipp at the time and added that “the scars are there for everyone to see in that regard. We have a habit of going to sleep after we get one.”
But midfielder McGrath rejected any suggestion that their failure to hold onto the cup in previous seasons had anything to do with players celebrating too much or growing complacent.
“To be honest, I think the outside perspective from people would have been that maybe Tipp players didn’t apply themselves in the same way in the years after they won All-Irelands, things like that,” said McGrath. “But that was never true. Every year we went back, in 2011 and 2017, we applied ourselves as well as we had the year before, if not better. There’s so many things outside of your control that people read into.
“The biggest thing for me is that there are seven or eight other counties out there that are all unbelievably skilled and unbelievably trained and on any given day can beat any team.
“We saw how well Limerick were going early in the year and how they beat us in a Munster final. Then they came up against an unbelievable Kilkenny team. I think from our point of view, everyone will go back next year and prepare as good as we did in 2019.
And lads will apply themselves because I know the characters that are there. I think it’s unfair the criticism that came at us in those two years, about not defending the All-Ireland. We got back to the final in 2011, and in 2017 (semi-final) we were beaten by an unbelievable point from Joe Canning.
“We’ve come back and we’ve competed very hard in the years after.”
McGrath, 28, admitted it frustrates him to hear talk that Tipp players weren’t professional enough in 2011 or 2017.
“Definitely, because I know the players that were involved and the character of the players involved with Tipperary in those years,” he said. “They all applied themselves as good as any team in the country in those years, applied themselves as they had the year before, trained hard, prepared well and look, that’s sport. You just have other teams that are up to a great level.”
The Loughmore-Castleiney man said he doesn’t necessarily feel that teams need to win back to back All-Irelands to be considered great.
“Personally, I think winning an All-Ireland is the pinnacle of your career,” he said. “It’s the greatest honour you can achieve as a player, winning an All-Ireland. I never grew up dreaming of winning back to backs, I grew up dreaming of just winning All-Irelands.”
But the ultra experienced McGrath moved quickly to insist he and Tipp will be pushing hard to hold on to the title in 2020.
Asked if it’ll be a driving force, he said: “It obviously is. There’s no point saying it isn’t because once 2020 comes you’re going to want to win that All-Ireland again.”
McGrath’s second and now third All-Ireland wins have come following a battle with testicular cancer which he thankfully won. It was in April of 2015 that he was diagnosed with the illness and he would remarkably return to action later that summer in the Championship.
Four years on, McGrath said that he has moved on from the illness, though admitted he does acknowledge the grim anniversary of his diagnosis every year.
“To be honest, when the date comes around every year I do know it, there’s no point saying I don’t,” he said. “It’s one that will stay in my head for the rest of my life. Everyone has different things in their lives that they’ll always remember and that will be one for me.”
McGrath said he has no issues with speaking publicly about the illness and believes he has helped others along the way.
“People have come to me and I’ll give them the best advice I possibly can, but people will deal with it in their own way as well, it’s not for me to tell any person what they should or shouldn’t do,” he said.