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Thursday 17 August 2017

Sunday showpiece is in a league of its own for McGrath

Tipperary's Noel McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary's Noel McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile

You would think that Noel McGrath has seen it and won it all... but there's at least one glaring blank on his decorated CV.

He has never won an Allianz Hurling League medal.

And not for the want of trying either: he has started three finals, all epic tussles with Kilkenny, two of which went to extra-time.

He tallied a cumulative 1-13 in those finals - 1-11 from play, one free and one sideline cut - and was still left with the galling anti-climax that comes when you put everything on the line for nothing.

Tipp's last NHL title came in 2008. McGrath's first league came in '09, as a precocious teen straight out of minor. He lost that year's showpiece to the Cats; ditto in 2013 and '14.

Worthy

All of which helps to explain why the two-time All Star is treating Sunday's Division 1 decider - against Galway at the Gaelic Grounds - as a worthy goal in its own right.

Cork in May can wait.

"The championship isn't too far around the corner now and it will be something that everyone will be looking forward to over the next few weeks," McGrath acknowledged, when reminded that Cork boss Kieran Kingston and selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan were interested Nowlan Park observers for Tipp's semi-final against Wexford.

"But we've five days to an Allianz League final and that's our main concern at the moment. If you get caught looking too far down the line, you get caught.

"It's a national title at the end of the day, one that hasn't been won in Tipp since 2008.

"Everybody wants to win as much as they can while they are playing and that's why you play," he added.

Battle

"You train to play in big matches and you grow up wanting to play for Tipperary, to play in finals against big teams. Sunday is one of those times."

McGrath's three previous finals preceded his successful battle with testicular cancer in 2015.

"Health is good," he affirmed at yesterday's Division 1 final preview event in Croke Park.

"Fully fit or not is another question!" he added, albeit his 2-2 against Wexford tells its own story.

"But yeah, all good again. It's two years now since I was out for a while with the illness.

"Look, it's great to be back and feeling good and getting out playing on the pitch again, whether it's for club or county."

His comeback was crowned, last September, by a second All-Ireland senior triumph.

"As you say, from the low to the high. Of maybe at one stage wondering would I ever play hurling, for club or county, again ... to getting back and being on the pitch.

"Just getting that buzz of running out in front of big crowds and wearing the jersey again is massive," he concluded.

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