You know about Noel McGrath the cancer survivor.
Allow the newly anointed 2015 Tipperary Person of the Year to reintroduce Noel McGrath the hurler.
That’s his ambition this season: To be remembered for his contributions on the field as much as his recovery from testicular cancer to don the blue and gold last year, four months after the diagnosis and subsequent work raising awareness, which has earned him the aforementioned honour from the Tipperary Association Dublin.
He can’t say for certain if he is back to where he was prior to surgery — “I did miss a lot of last year, a lot of tough training” — but the old routine couldn’t feel much better for him right now. “I’m just delighted the year is getting going and that I can get back to normality and back training. I got some great support and people have been really good to me, and I really appreciate that.
“But I suppose I’m 25 years of age now and you don’t realise how quick your career goes. I’m just really delighted to get back playing, get back to normality and train and play matches and getting with the group of lads five or six nights a week.”
His team-mate Kieran Bergin spoke last summer of how upon McGrath’s return to the panel he was treated as one of the boys. It helped. “You’d rather have it like that than lads tip-toeing around and thinking you are something different. It was nice I just fitted back in and we all just had a goal to train and play; and the lads knew that I was coming back in to try and help that as well.
“It’s still the same now, back to normal this year. There are players coming and going with injuries the whole time and I was no different to that. You just have to fit back in and help the team and the management as much as you can.”
McGrath’s appearance as a second-half substitute in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway was many people’s sporting highlight of 2015. It may have been even more of a fairytale moment had his late point been the winning one. While thrilled to be involved again, his overriding emotion was negative.
“Disaster, it was an All-Ireland semi-final. No matter what, losing an All-Ireland semi-final by a point that way at the end is very disappointing. The management, players — everyone was just gutted.
“Even on a personal side, if you look away from it all, yeah, great I got to come back and play but from my own point of view, and from the team’s point of view, it’s so disappointing to have worked so far and to lose by that small margin. But that’s sport and that’s why you come back again to go again in 2016.”
The immense applause in Croke Park that greeted McGrath’s arrival onto the pitch didn’t register with him until later in the week. “It was more afterwards I kind of realised what was after happening. I was kind of stuck in the moment wanting to play and wanting to get Tipp over the line.
“I had prepared with the boys before that the same for any match to be ready for it. It wasn’t for the few days after it that I really realised what happened when I came on, and the cheer and people were good and the support I got was brilliant.” Looking to the future, and there is speculation Tipperary under new manager Michael Ryan may adopt a slightly more direct style this season, with an added emphasis on being physical.
McGrath says the team’s style won’t manifest itself until later in the season. “We haven’t won an All-Ireland in six years so every year things will change, things will be different, no matter who is over you.
“As players we have to try change to make things better, work better, whatever the management ask us we will do. And do it the best you can.”
Entertaining Walsh Cup winners Dublin in their Division 1A opener on Saturday, McGrath accepts Tipperary’s first-round form has been poor. The 12-point drubbing Dublin handed them in Parnell Park is freshest in the mind but in the last six seasons, just once have they begun their campaign with a win, after a nervy finish against Waterford two years ago.
“Training has been going well,” he says. “We’ve had two challenge games and have prepared the best we can so we’re ready for Saturday night.”
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