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Cats can sense it if you're not up for it – McGrath

THE small things can add up to great results. Shane McGrath realises this.

Do one thing at a time, tick the boxes, bank the regular deposits. That's what this week has been all about for the Tipperary captain. Right down to the bowl of porridge in the morning.

Because the small things will make the difference in the Nowlan Park cauldron tomorrow. And McGrath has had enough first-hand experience to understand that Kilkenny are predators. They sense fear, exploit weaknesses.

"They'll know as soon as the ball is thrown in whether we're up for it or not," he says. "We just have to be or it will be over at half-time."

McGrath will know if Tipp are up for it when he looks around the dressing- room before the visitors leave their inner sanctum and dance into the light.

A sell-out crowd for the Allianz NHL final will discover if the mental scars from last August's 18-point All-Ireland semi-final defeat have healed.

It's McGrath's first meeting with the Cats since then as he missed the Semple Stadium victory in March.

Physically, Tipp are in a good place. Now, it's a head game.

"Kilkenny are one team that if you're not right, you just haven't a hope – they'll know, they can almost sense it in you if you're not right," McGrath warns.

And as captain, he carries an added responsibility. It was an honour bestowed upon him by manager Eamon O'Shea before the league campaign.

To some, it was a surprise appointment, but McGrath has responded well. His tenure began in nightmarish fashion, however, when Tipp were pummeled by Cork on the opening weekend.

McGrath left Cork nursing what he thought was a broken hand and felt "as low as I ever was after a game."

A scan the following day revealed no break and at training the following week, Tipp, as a collective, vowed that what happened at Pairc Ui Rinn would never happen again.

"I think the Cork boys would agree, it was just one of those days where nothing went right for us. The only way was up, realistically, from there. We are a mature bunch now, we've played on a lot of big days as a group, we knew we just had to drive it on, we knew things would have to improve."

And they did, with Tipp embarking on a run that saw them top Division 1A. Their best form of the season, in the first half at least, followed against Dublin in the semi-final, but Tipp took that one with a pinch of salt. Dublin had already achieved their goal of promotion from Division 1B and were still reeling from a tortuous training spin on Bere Island.


Tomorrow will provide the real answers and in that search, McGrath references former England rugby captain Martin Johnson. He remembers him speaking about the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, when Johnson scanned the dressing-room before the battle with Australia.

And Johnson knew.

"He decided he didn't have to say anything," McGrath says. "We don't have to sprint onto the field if we're ready."

But the traditional zip from the tunnel is still part and parcel of a big match. Lose, and the snipers will sneer: 'Ah, sure they only trotted out, they weren't ready.'

McGrath laughs. "We'll all just do a Usain Bolt on it the next day!"

He's received some useful tips from Paul Curran and Eoin Kelly, too. Tipp's previous two captains and "some of the best men to talk I've ever heard."

But McGrath (28) is conscious of striking a balance. When push comes to shove, his job is to hurl, and hurl well, at midfield tomorrow. The sideshows cannot affect his game focus.

"You can't get caught up in it too much, trying to make sure everyone is right and then you go our yourself and you're mentally wrecked.

"That's where we're so lucky in our side, we have so many leaders you don't have to go around making sure everything is right; just do the few little things and then when game-time comes you can concentrate on your own game, or else you're gone after 10 or 15 minutes."

And he's confident that Tipp are ready for whatever comes their way. On their home patch, in a national final, Kilkenny aren't contemplating defeat against that lot from down the road.

"I feel I'm in a better place (than last year)," the former All Star reveals. "I'm enjoying my hurling, we're in a league final which we weren't last year – things are going very well this year.

"I don't know what things look like from the outside, but we're doing fine, training is going fine, lads are in good form and that makes a big difference. You're looking forward to going training, looking forward to meeting the boys. Really they're your family for the nine or 10 months that you're together."

He could collect his first piece of silverware as Tipp captain, all going to plan. But Nowlan Park can frazzle the most hardened of minds.

"We've had good days and some very bad days down there," McGrath reflects.

"But we'll be thinking of the good days, hoping to have another one on Sunday, if our heads are right. If they're not we'll be blown away again, no point in saying anything else."

The small things will help. And then, something big could happen.

Irish Independent