Noel McGrath: 'I felt a lump and hoped it was from hurling, but it was testicular cancer'
Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath would love to have walked out behind the Artane Boys Band today on All-Ireland Sunday.
But disappointment that the Premier County fell to Galway in the semi-final is tempered by heartfelt thanks that he is able to watch today's finale to the championship in good health after his battle with cancer.
During that tempestuous semi-final tens of thousand of Galway and Tipperary fans rose in unison to applaud Noel when he dashed on to the pitch as a substitute as the match reached its breathtaking climax.
All he wanted to do was play hurling. Although his team were defeated, Noel was standing tall when the final whistle blew.
Last April, Noel felt a lump. He knew it seemed abnormal but hoped it was swelling from a hurling injury.
"You would notice it very quickly, and I knew straight away that something wasn't right," he said.
"I waited for a week or two to get it checked. I was hoping it might have been a knock I picked up in a match," he said.
But finally, after consulting his team doctor and undergoing immediate tests the star hurler was diagnosed with cancer.
"It all happened so fast. It took a while to realise what was actually going on, because of the shock of it all. Even though I thought about what it might have been, once you're told what it is, your body just sinks," he said.
"It's just that word that is associated with it, that just knocks you back. But there were good people around me, and they helped me through it," said Noel, who opened up about his battle with cancer and his miraculous recovery in a special video broadcast on RTE's programme Up for the Match last night.
From not being able to move for 10 days after a very difficult bout of chemotherapy and losing all his fitness to returning to senior training just 10 weeks ago, campaigners say Noel is an extraordinary role model for men's health.
As the new ambassador for Movember 2015 - raising awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and men's mental health issues - the Loughmore native hopes that revealing his experience will encourage all men to check themselves and speak out.
Paul Cummins of Movember 2015 said: "The big issue in Ireland is that men are reluctant to talk and they are reluctant to get checked and often leave it too late. They just hope it will go away.
"But to have Noel, a man who is so young and willing to talk out, it's just so great. He will have an incredible impact on men of all ages," he said adding that this year's campaign is set to target farming and GAA communities in rural and isolated parts of Ireland.
"We just want to get the message out not to be afraid to talk to someone, even if it's just a friend in the pub," he said.
Noel emphasises his eternal thanks to family, friends and GAA community for their constant support.
This was a sentiment perfectly captured by Galway manager Anthony Cunningham's decision to shake his hand after the match on August 16.
"He came over and shook my hand, and wished me well. He didn't need to do that, and that just shows the spirit that's in the GAA, and I really appreciated that," said Noel.