To prove he is good enough to play inter-county football, twice a week Shane McGrath makes the two-and-a-half-hour journey from Dublin, where he was born and where he has played his club football all his life, to Clare, the county of his parents.
There were times when all those kilometres travelled in the last three years seemed to be leading nowhere. Depressing dead-ends and nagging questions. After a second failed attempt to get out of Division 4 last year and a 16-point qualifier defeat to Laois, the Clare footballer wondered if it was all a waste of time.
“I remember driving back to Dublin thinking: ‘Where do we go from here? What’s the point?’”
The whole reason for the undertaking in the first place was personal ambition rather than a deep connection to a county where his father, John, played for Shannon Gaels and was named on the Clare football team of the century.
“I wanted to play inter-county football and I wasn’t getting in with Dublin,” McGrath explains. “It would be a lie to say I grew up in Dublin hoping to play for Clare. I was born in Dublin so the dream was to play for them.”
The genesis of the switch was a conversation with then Clare boss Micheal McDermott at the end of 2011. With no seeding in Munster in 2012, the opportunity to play in a provincial final was a sweet selling point.
The Thomas Davis forward had played one senior competitive game under Pat Gilroy against Wexford in the O’Byrne Cup in 2010 but, as Dublin pushed the limits of how amateur players prepared with a training regime that would be the foundation of their two All-Ireland successes in three years, McGrath was forced to make a tough decision.
“At that time Dublin were training twice a day five times a week and I was going down to the Garda College in Templemore,” he continues. “I couldn’t commit.”
This weekend’s opponents Kildare were at the centre of the sport’s most divisive transfer in 2012 when Seanie Johnston switched from Cavan and, though the circumstances were entirely different, McGrath admits he was worried how he would be received.
“When I was going there I thought there might be a lot of resentment. But from day one they were very welcoming. I’ve met lads there that will be friends for life,” the Dublin-based garda says. “I wouldn’t agree you have to have grown up in an area. You’re there to represent the county.”
Although Clare finally climbed out of Division 4 this year, those same questions hovered again after the draw with Waterford in the Munster quarter-final. Six weeks later, having seen the hurlers exit the championship and after crushing Carlow, the question now is: how far they can go?
McGrath, who has contributed 1-10 in four matches, credits the management team of Colm Collins, Ger Keane, former Cork footballer Paudie Kissane and former Munster rugby player and now Clare’s conditioning coach Chris Delooze for their form.
“They work excellently together. This team has huge potential. When you feel you’re going places, that’s a big aspect of it and it makes the sacrifice and the travel all worthwhile.”
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