Ciarán McGrath targets fairytale return

Were Corofin to prevail on Saturday, Ciarán McGrath will accept the Andy Merrigan Cup from new GAA president John Horan. But there’s no guarantee the Corofin captain will be part of their starting line-up.

Pic: INPHO/Mike Shaughnessy

A knee injury meant McGrath missed Corofin’s recent All-Ireland quarter- and semi-final victories and while manager Kevin O’Brien has declared the corner-back fully fit, there’s every chance management will opt to keep faith with the team which battled past Moorefield last time out.

McGrath’s injury story is an unusual one; his decision to overlook surgery after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament on St Patrick’s Day three years ago very much out of kilter with the small army of GAA players who’ve gone under the knife to fix this injury.

But that’s not where his injury woes begin.

In October 2012, McGrath was lining out for Sylane — a hurling club drawing from the football strongholds of Corofin, Caherlistrane, Kilconly, and Headford — in the Galway junior championship semi-final when disaster struck.

“I was going through on goal and I planted myself to strike the ball. A defender came in across me, and whatever way I was planted, he just swept me. It resulted in a double-leg break,” recalls the 33-year old.

Adding to the frustration of the injury was that it effectively ended his inter-county career. At the time, he had one year done with the Galway footballers. The broken fibula and tibia meant his 2013 season was a write-off.

I was back running within eight months of the break. I had a pin put in, but it was hitting a tendon in my knee and affecting my run. So I had to get the pin out, but for some reason, you have to wait 12 months after the pin goes in before you can remove it.

He returned for the 2014 campaign, Corofin ending the year as county and Connacht champions.

He was corner-back on the afternoon Slaughtneil were overcome to deliver the club a second All-Ireland title, playing the full hour at Croke Park despite tearing his cruciate 15 minutes in.

Indeed, not alone did he play on with a banjaxed knee, he opted not to have it surgically repaired. The Ballinrobe-based garda was back motoring after little more than three months.

“I went in to see the specialist I had dealt with during my leg break. He was happy enough with the work I had put in since the time of my leg break.

"He reckoned that would stand to me and if I was willing to put in more work, the knee might hold up and remain stable.

“From what I gather, your cruciate is attached to either side of your knee. What happened was mine came away in one part and it lodged somewhere. They don’t know what is holding it together, it could be dry blood.

“If I was younger, I probably would have got it operated on. But we were on the crest of a wave in 2015, I was in my 30s and you don’t know how long it is going to last. 

"You just want to be playing while you are successful and you will worry about operations when it all ends. We won’t always have this group together and it would be a shame to miss anything.

“It held up, to be fair, for the guts of two-and-a-half years.”

Late on in their extra-time Connacht final win over Castlebar Mitchels last November, the knee buckled. McGrath was withdrawn and if he does figure at Croke Park, it’ll be his first bit of game-time in three-and-a-half months.

“I was going for a ball and got my leg caught in behind Castlebar’s Neil Douglas’ legs. He twisted one way and my knee went the other way. It was a bad one.”

No more than their final opponents, Corofin is a club with a proud history. With that, however, comes pressure.

“If you have a local over the team, sometimes he has to distance himself because he can’t go into the local pub without somebody saying you should have played this guy there or that lad there. Our management are all past players which makes it harder,” says McGrath.

“As for the players, I’ve no doubt there is a lot said about you when you’re not in there. We are lucky enough as a group that we stick together, we socialise together, we are all the one age. 

"There is enough of us to back each other up and lads are smart enough not to say too much to us. We can be fiery enough.”



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