Saturday 23 February 2019

McGrath delighted to be back in thick of action after time away

"I went to Australia (late 2014) because I just needed a break from everything." (stock picture)

Cliona Foley

When Siobhan McGrath took a couple of years out to go to work and travel Down Under, she tried a few of those mad, adrenalising adventures that help some people to feel more alive.

The scariest, she reckons, was a freefall, 400-foot harness jump into a canyon in New Zealand.

Yet for some, what she has done in football this year might have been even scarier.

McGrath was only 15 when she first joined the Dublin senior footballers in 2003 and quips that she took up the game, "when a manager would pretty much have been delighted to see his team puking at the end of a training session".

Women's Gaelic football is in another world now, she notes: "There's so much more emphasis on controlling it (training), on making sure the body is right, rather than just 'get out there and run 20 miles and push yourself as hard as you can'."

It's now a whirl of science, GPS trackers, nutrition and weight training, and even since her hiatus she has seen a leap in pace and skills, not to mind the coverage and that attendance record of 46,000-plus last year, of which she was one.

McGrath won an All-Ireland senior title in 2010 and All-Stars in 2009 and 2010, but her last final was in 2014 so, at 30, she defied age and sporting convention to try a comeback this season.

She was also looking to break back into a team that finally broke their three-year losing final sequence 12 months ago, already had a stellar half-back line, and appear to be setting new standards of excellence in the women's game.

But as an accountant she knows the value of calculation and evaluating risks so, after returning to Ireland in January 2017, she rebuilt her fitness from the wings for a year.

"I went to Australia (late 2014) because I just needed a break from everything.

"Life was just very regimented and seriously committed and I just needed to go and be different for a little while.

"Now I feel like I've been through three eras," McGrath says of returning to the Jackies' latest iteration.

"When I started you had Martina Farrrell and Louise Kelly and those. Then we had the era of Denise Masterson and 'Bangers' (Maria Kavanagh), and now it's the younger ones again."

McGrath could easily have returned just to club football.

She led Thomas Davis to an All-Ireland junior title in 2012, the national intermediate final a year later and their current Dublin senior status.

So why put herself through the hardship of battling it out with the sort of youthful talent that now pings about the inter-county game?

"I don't know!" she grins. "I think you always have that in you. I really enjoyed my time away and when I came home last year, well you think you're happy with that lifestyle, but then you realise what's really in you.

"That you like to be that competitive, you like to have that drive. I really missed it.

"They (Dublin management) told me I needed to earn my spot back and nothing comes easy. The first night back was daunting.

"Everything's at a different level from the years since I've been gone. Just knowing that I had that much work to do was a bit scary but the girls and management have been great.

"They've pushed me to where I need to be."

Irish Independent

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