Tuesday 20 February 2018

McGrath happy to play central role for premier

Jackie Cahill

IT'S safe to assume Shane McGrath was pleased when Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy revealed his line-up for tomorrow's All-Ireland SHC semi-final at training on Thursday evening.

"Seven, Padraic Maher. Eight, Brendan Maher. Nine, Shane McGrath." Bingo.

The Ballinahinch dynamo is happily restored to his natural midfield position, having started in the unfamiliar surroundings of the half-forward line for his last two championship outings.

"Like a fish out of water" was how Cyril Farrell described the move in these pages, but perhaps the most damning verdict of all came from the woman who knows McGrath best.

"When your mother comes up to you and says 'centre-forward is not your place,' you know," he laughs.

In an attempt to solve Tipp's centre-forward conundrum, McGrath was re-positioned there for the Offaly qualifier in Portlaoise last month.

He scored a first-half point and the experiment showed just about enough merit to warrant a repeat seven days later against Galway.


David Young started alongside Brendan Maher in Tipp's engine room, but struggled with the pace of the quarter-final and made way before half-time.

In came Seamus Callanan at centre-forward and back to midfield went McGrath, where he embarked on a major tour de force and was one of three nominees for RTE's man-of-the- match award.

"I enjoyed when Liam told me to go out there the other day, I kind of got a new lease of life," McGrath admits.

He explained that he had never played in the half-forward line before, not even with his club Ballinahinch.

"I don't know what to make of it. Even with the college, I was always playing in the half-back line or midfield.

"I went out and did my best, worked hard or whatever, but probably midfield is where I feel more comfortable."

The old saying goes that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but you can add straight talking from Shane McGrath to that list.

The 25-year-old midfielder, an All Star in 2008, reveals he never watched a re-run of last September's All-Ireland final -- and perhaps never will.

"The only thing is we have the bit of experience now of playing on the big day," he reflects.

"The Kilkenny boys have really set the target for everyone. We performed the best we could perform that day and still couldn't beat them, so that will tell you what it takes. It did take a while to get over it, going to the pub I suppose and things like that.

"Anyone who has watched it tells me it was a great game of hurling, but you get nothing for being part of a great game, you have to be winning."

Tipperary's next championship outing was against Cork and the result was another defeat. But this time, the manner of it set alarm bells ringing and tongues wagging within the Premier County.

McGrath has learned quickly that when you lose a championship match, Tipperary can be a difficult place.

"The last game everyone remembers is the All-Ireland final and how we performed that day. We were a shadow of that team against Cork. There was overreaction -- everyone thought this was the end of the team, calling for lads to retire, calling for new lads to come in and all this. But that's Tipperary for you -- fans expect you to be winning every day.

"There is tradition there in Tipperary, but we haven't won that many cups in the last couple of years so the reaction was probably over the top.

"The reaction of people closely involved, family and friends of the players, they were texting us saying 'heads up, you'll be back.' It's great getting 10 or 12 text messages the day you win the match, but it is the day you lose the match you really appreciate the text messages and support."

McGrath admits that Cork, and the hunger they brought to the table, surprised Tipp.

"They did yeah, they blew us away. The intensity they brought to it. They were good. Any hits that were given, they gave them first," he said.

"One or two lads could say they performed fairly well. The rest of us . . . you could have taken off 13 or 14 players no bother at all.

"You'd have been as well off to play the U-21 team, the way it went.

"It was just one of those days."

Irish Independent

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