Tipp's O'Meara rewarded for his persistence as luck finally turns
A little over 12 months ago, Tipperary star Niall O'Meara would have been forgiven for thinking that if it wasn't for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.
A busted shoulder followed a punctured lung in the early part of 2018 before Tipp's summer ended prematurely.
He had put a lot in and got precious little out. "To be honest, mentally, it took a toll on me last year," he offers candidly.
If hurling had temporarily lost its lustre, a North Tipperary final win with Kilruane MacDonaghs, the club's first in 28 years, reignited the fire in him.
And when Liam Sheedy rang, he had heard enough to know that it was the kind of opportunity that you don't reject.
"Eamon O'Shea was involved with us and we had a great year - it was the first time we won something in 20-odd years, it kind of gave me the kick to go again," O'Meara says.
"When I got the phone call from Liam, I couldn't turn it down. The boys, Brendan and Bonner [Maher], told me how good he was and I actually didn't really think he was that good until I got involved in the set-up. He's second to none, he's top class."
This year wasn't straightforward either with a few bumps in the road as he picked up injuries at the worst possible times.
"The first day down in Cork, I got a kind of a cramp in my hamstring. I missed the Waterford game the following week and I was then named to start against Clare but the Friday night before it myself and Brendan Maher jumped up for a high ball and - a pure freak - we ended up on top of each other and I twinged it again.
"We got over the Clare game and I knew we were through to the All-Ireland series so Liam said, 'Get yourself right for that'. I had that in the back of my head that I had a goal I had to try and get to and that helped me big time."
Eventually his persistence was rewarded. O'Meara started every game from the quarter-final on, including the decider, where he grabbed the first-half goal that kick-started Tipp's challenge and has sparked wild celebrations in the county.
"My family was here and we just had great craic and you were still taking it all in, people coming up and congratulating you.
"It was a great feeling because after 2016 we were thinking we had a good age profile and then it took three years to get back here. I appreciate it more now than I did back then."
O'Meara's team-mate Ronan Maher struck a similar note. 2016 was such a high but they have clocked up huge experience since, enough to know that there's no guarantee they will ever get back to this position again.
"I was just thinking to myself there yesterday - and I suppose maybe a few of the younger lads are the same - but I didn't really appreciate it as much in 2016," Maher reflects.
"So I'm really going to appreciate it this year now. Like I said 2016 feels a long time ago."
Indeed, the morning after the final, O'Meara was eager to soak up the afterglow of success.
"You couldn't stay in the bed, you just wanted to get up and get down straight way," he said. "The last few years have been very tough for this group and there's a batch of young lads coming there now and they're after giving us a great boost.
"They're after strengthening our panel magnificently over the last few years and best of luck to them next weekend in the 20s All-Ireland. Hopefully they'll continue on the success.
"The last few years have been tough. We worked hard and especially this year from November onwards.
"Thankfully, we came out on the right side this year. I suppose it's a game of fine margins and the last few years have showed that for us."