'We're there to be knocked off our perch' - McGrath
Published 18/10/2016 | 02:30
After enduring a frustrating injury-plagued 2015, which saw him play club football games restricted to handpassing due to a groin/hip complaint, this year was "the stuff of dreams" for John McGrath.
An All-Ireland minor winner in both codes, he could easily have been part of Liam Kearns' Premier football plans this year but instead a fully fit McGrath exploded onto the hurling scene as Tipp blitzed Kilkenny en route to Liam MacCarthy.
A similar impact was expected the previous year but he was left cursing his luck, tormented by a crippling pain which meant his contribution with Loughmore-Castleiney's footballers was reduced to "catch and handpass".
"I would have been able to play games but everyone knew there was no circumstance where I was going to kick the ball. It was a catch and handpass kind of a job. It was awkward, frustrating. There was opportunity to kick it," McGrath says.
"I just knew that if I went back at it full belt and started kicking ball, in the long run it wasn't going to be sustainable. I'd only end up being half-fit, not be able to give my best again. I had to do what was right myself.
"I remember going three full games without kicking one ball. It took getting used to. In training, you'd be doing kicking drills and lads would be looking at you, trying a big long handpass. I had to adapt to prolong my career, to give myself every chance to be available. If I went kicking the ball I'd be struggling afterwards."
There was no such struggle this season, however, and since bagging 2-7 in UL's Fitzgibbon Cup final defeat to Mary I in February, McGrath has transferred that outstanding form to Michael Ryan's Premier senior side.
Part of a Tipp full-forward line which hit the Cats for 2-15 from play in a stunning attacking display last month, the 22-year-old looks set for a first All-Star to cap the perfect season.
"Looking back on it, it was the stuff of dreams. The whole year. I can't put it into words. I made one championship panel the year before. To go from that to playing and winning an All-Ireland is something I'll never forget," he says.
To make it more special, the third year Construction Management student was part of a remarkable family day as older brother Noel played alongside him in the Tipp attack, while younger brother Brian captained the All-Ireland-winning minor squad.
He caught a glance of the minor game before departing for Croke Park and some more upon their arrival but after leaving with them leading by three points, his eyes were fixed firmly on the prize with that "little distraction" parked to one side.
"It was only after our game was over that I had to ask someone, 'Did the minors definitely win?' Once I went down into the dressing-room I forgot all about it, I never thought to check or ask anyone," he admits.
The thoughts of emulating Kerry's Ó Sé brothers, and Mayo's O'Sheas, with a family trio participating in the senior side, is something John would enjoy but "if it happens, it happens and if not, it's not a big deal either".
And after finally getting the Kilkenny monkey off Tipp's back they have no intention of stopping there.
"It was a long time for a team with that kind of talent to wait for a second All-Ireland. They'll have learnt from that," he says. "They've fed that into the younger lads as well, 'this doesn't happen year after year'. It's my first year involved. I know going out next year it's not going to be handed to us. It's going to be harder than this year to get another.
"That's the mentality that we need, that we're going to have to work harder - that once we get back into training again it's a level playing field and everyone is out there to get us, we're there to be knocked off our perch."