John McGrath: Critics may lay off Tipperary now

Tipperary attacker John McGrath has suggested that supporters were too quick to criticise the team for past failings, particularly during this year’s Allianz League.

The Premier County is facing into a winter of content as MacCarthy Cup holders though McGrath, their Munster and All-Ireland final hero, noted that many supporters were critical of the team as recently as spring.

Tipp finished fourth in the six-team Division 1A and lost narrowly to Kilkenny, Waterford and Clare during their campaign, something that critics who questioned their ability to win tight games were quick to latch onto.

Asked if he believes supporters will cut the players some slack if they lose more games in next year’s league campaign, on the back of their All-Ireland win, McGrath nodded.

“Maybe so, yeah, the last couple of years a lot of lads were getting a lot of criticism,” said the Loughmore-Castleiney man. “I don’t think that any amateur sports person that’s giving up their time freely to represent their county to the best of their ability should be subjected to that kind of thing.

“We’re all only going out to give our best and to represent the county and, I don’t know, people have their opinions and that’s grand but you just have to try and put that to the back of your mind and get on with the thing.

“Maybe they won’t be as quick to jump to the criticism if we lose a game or two next year.”

McGrath blasted 1-30 throughout the league and scored four points against Kilkenny in February, a game in which the Cats conjured two late goals to win by a flattering five-point margin.

“Although we lost, we never got too worried about that,” continued McGrath. “We lost by a few points. We lost one or two other league games by small margins as well. Outside of our camp, there would have been a lot of criticism thrown at us for things like that, ‘Oh, this team can’t win tight games’ or whatever. But our focus was on the first round of the Munster championship and just building towards that.”

Tipp gained revenge on both Waterford and Kilkenny for those league defeats during the Championship with McGrath delivering 3-2 against the Déise on Munster final day while he added another 1-3 in the All-Ireland final defeat of the Cats.

McGrath, playing alongside sibling Noel, described it as a “dream” year for his family as younger brother, Brian, also captained the minors to All-Ireland success.

It came after a difficult 2015 which saw John, a talented footballer and an All-Ireland minor winner in 2011, sidelined with pelvic trouble.

In a remarkable show of commitment to his club, McGrath revealed that he played several football championship games last year where he didn’t kick the ball even once, because of the injury.

“I was able to play games but everyone knew there was no circumstance where I was going to kick the ball,” he said. “It was a catch and hand pass kind of job. It was awkward, frustrating.

“There were obviously opportunities to kick it but I knew that if I went back at it full pelt and started kicking ball, in the long run that wasn’t going to be sustainable for me.

“I’d say I played that way for four or five games towards the end of last year. Definitely I remember going three full games without kicking one ball. It took getting used to. In training, you’d be doing the kicking drills and lads would be looking at you trying a big long hand pass! I had to adapt to prolong my career, to give myself every chance to be available.”

McGrath was part of a full-forward line that hit a collective 2-21 against Kilkenny in last month’s All-Ireland decider and his sole focus now is on delivering again in 2017 and winning back-to-back All-Irelands.

“Although it was a terrific year, we’ve had our few weeks of enjoyment now and once Christmas comes, it’ll have to be all forgotten and we’ll have to go back to the drawing board again,” said the third year Construction Management student at UL.

“Even at the Championship draw last weekend, Seamie (Callanan) was saying it’s nice now to have a focus for next year and to know what we’re facing into.

“I think that’s the attitude and mentality that we need, that once we get back into training again, it’s a level playing field again, and we realise everyone is out there to get us and we’re there to be knocked off our perch.”

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