Ken McGrath will link up with the Waterford hurlers next Tuesday to train for the first time this season determined to put a miserable year on the field in 2010 behind him.
McGrath, the county's second-longest serving player after his Mount Sion club-mate Tony Browne, admitted there were times last year when he seriously questioned his future as an inter-county hurler. But having seen a general improvement in the condition of his knees and his success in beating the debilitating viral infection sarcoidosis, McGrath is much more upbeat about the season ahead.
"I'm planning to be back on Tuesday night next, February 1, for a fresh start. Hurling wise, I'm glad that 2010 is behind me," he said.
McGrath kept the nature of his lung infection last summer under wraps, but sarcoidosis can be a highly debilitating illness that can also affect the joints.
The European Tour golfer Stephen Gallagher has struggled with the infection and it knocked him out for long chunks of last season. Ireland has one of the highest incidences of the disease in the world which can be prevalent among young people in their 20s and 30s.
"It definitely got me last summer when it came at me around the end of June," recalled McGrath. "It made it very difficult for me to train. But I'm over it now, thankfully. I don't know how I got it. It's just one of those things. I had never heard of it before."
McGrath revealed he lost significant weight over the last two seasons, but now felt like he was somewhere close to his "fighting weight" again.
"I feel stronger again. I've done a nice bit of work over the winter, not much running, but plenty of gym work and I've been with the club recently," he said. "My knees are better than they have been for some time. There isn't much I can do with them at this stage except manage them well."
McGrath cut a frustrated figure for much of last year as he failed to make Davy Fitzgerald's championship team. His reaction on scoring a point after coming on as a substitute after Waterford's defeat of Clare on the Bank Holiday Monday in June, as he gestured over towards the sideline, underlined that frustration. But McGrath now accepts that he simply wasn't fit enough at the beginning of the championship last summer and that the illness and knees didn't help him.
"I wasn't right at the start of the championship. In truth, I stayed away from training for too long at the beginning of last year. I wasn't back until the beginning of April. Even though we were all on gym programmes I felt it was too long away," he said. "That's why I'm anxious to get back now, not to lose that time again."
McGrath got married last year and worked at consolidating his sports shop business in Waterford city during his time away. But this season he wants to approach things differently.
"I'd like to play more league games if I can. First I have to prove that I'm fit enough to go."
McGrath admits that retirement did cross his mind on several occasions.
"With two kids, a business and plenty of knee trouble, I did think about it. But I discussed it with a few people, my father (the former Waterford hurler Pat) and they advised me to keep playing if I thought I had something to offer.
"I do think I have something to offer. I hope Davy (Fitzgerald) thinks I do too. My intention is to go on for at least another season or two. You would always miss the buzz of the summer if you did pull away."
McGrath has been Waterford's most versatile player over the last decade and has ranged from full-back to full- forward in his positioning. He says he remains inspired by the ageless wonder that is Browne, who has committed again for a 20th season.
"Tony is doing his own thing. He'll be back in about three weeks from what I gather," confirmed McGrath of his Mount Sion clubmate.
Eoin Murphy is also due back next Tuesday night which should give Waterford a strong hand in the league, even without their De La Salle players. Last year Fitzgerald did not press six of his more established players, including McGrath and Browne, into action too early in the season and the benefits of that strategy paid off for most of them, McGrath being the unfortunate exception.
He will hope for better in 2011, whatever the strategy.