To prepare for his role as captain of the Tipperary Senior hurling team, Shane McGrath has drawn inspiration from an unlikely source.
Revealing that he been reading up on “small little things that all the great captains used to do”, he noted that former England rugby captain Martin Johnson had walked his team onto the pitch before they beat Australia in the 2003 World Cup Final.
“GAA teams have a tendency to believe that if you’re not sprinting out onto the field you’re not fully right. Before the rugby World Cup Final Martin Johnson had a quick look around and normally said something. But before that match he didn’t have to say anything.
It’s just something small, it’s not a big deal. It’s something I have in my head, we don’t have to sprint out onto the field, we’re ready. But if we don’t sprint out onto the field and lose the match we’ll be like Usain Bolt the next day!”
The Ballinhinch player has described his elevation to captain as “a massive honour for me, coming from where I come from. We (Ballinhanich) are never going to be county senior champions, realistically, so the reward of being captain of the Tipperary senior team is just massive for me, my family and people around me”.
In his first year he has enjoyed leading the side to the National League Final, and lifting the cup in Nowlan Park against Kilkenny would be “a dream” that he hopes will become a reality this weekend. “But it will take a lot of hard work to get up those steps on Sunday.
Nowlan Park is an intimidating place, there will be a huge Kilkenny crowd and hopefully a big Tipp following there. Any neutral within 50 miles will go as well because it has the makings of a great game. We’ve had good days and some very bad days down there. We’ll be thinking of the good days, hoping that we’ll have another one, but only if our heads are right. If they’re not we will get blown away again”.
Shane says that you “get your head right” by doing everything you need to in the days before the match and when you’ve done that, “down to eating the bowl of porridge in the morning”, all the small things make a huge difference.
“If you’re not right against these boys you haven’t a hope. They’ll know that as well, they can almost sense it whether you’re up for it or not. Kilkenny have set an unbelieveable standard and they’ve taken hurling to a whole new level. They know if you’re 100% committed to the ball or not. All great teams know it; Barcelona, regardless of the other night (when they lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final), they know it if you’re up for a game or not. We just have to be (ready) or it’ll be over at half time.
Kilkenny are the best at ruthlessly exposing any weaknesses. They’ll go down in history as probably the greatest team in hurling and rightly so.
It’s only natural to be jealous of them but you have to learn from them too and find out how do we become the best”.
While he’s revelling in the job he’s careful that the job of captain doesn’t distract him from his own game.
“You could get caught up in it too much, making sure everyone is right. You could be mentally wrecked from making sure that everything else is right. In our set-up we have so many leaders that you don’t have to go around making sure everything is right - do the few little things and when game time comes you have to concentrate on your own game or else you’re gone after 10 or 15 minutes”.
He says he has received some good tips from previous captains Eoin Kelly and Paul Curran, who have been great leaders and some of the best men he has heard to talk.
“I’m vocal anyway but maybe unknown to yourself you would find yourself saying a bit more to lads. You’d find yourself saying more to the new lads because I knew how they felt. It means a lot when someone says something to drive you on.
On the day it’s just a matter of going up for the toss, the boys are just so ready that you can’t say anything that’s going to change them too much. One or two things might make a difference to one lad. But there is more to the role of captain in the build-up to the game. I would be an outgoing person who gets on with most people”.
McGrath feels he’s in a better place this year and is enjoying his hurling.
“Things are going very well this year, we’re doing fine. Training is going fine and lads are in good form, you’re looking forward to training and meeting up with the boys.Realistically they are your family for the 9 or 10 months of a hurling year that’s in it”.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t think they would reach the League Final on their way home from the opening round in Cork when they were well beaten.
“I was as low as I ever was after a match because I had picked up a hand injury and thought I would be out for 2 or 3 months. The following day I got good news on the injury and that was a boost. We just drove it on in training the following week and we just knew that would never ever happen again. It was just one of those days when nothing went right.The only way was up from there.
We are a mature bunch and have played on a lot of big days collectively as a group. We’ve gone well since.
We’re in the League Final so we’re further ahead in our preparations than we were last year. The new lads that have come in have got us there. The players and the backroom team have really pushed everything on. Young Jason Forde would have been well known in Tipperary but a lot of people outside the county wouldn’t have known about him. He’s 19 and came out and gave a super performance in the semi-final against Dublin but he won’t be a one-trick pony. That will happen again and again for him throughout the year, I have no doubt, although he’ll probably be watched a little bit more.
This time last year we weren’t concerned, we were finished with the league after losing to Cork in the semi-final. It’s great to be in the League Final but it’s all about the championship. In 30 years time if you ask someone who won the league in 2013 they won’t be able to tell you, but if you ask them who won the All-Ireland they’ll be able to tell you straight away.
However being in the League Final is the best preparation you could have for the championship.
The 2009 final in Thurles that Kilkenny won after extra time was a super game, and there was a high-scoring affair in Croke Park in 2003. If it’s a great game well and good but neither Tipp nor Kilkenny will mind if it’s a terrible game if they win.
The 2009 final really prepared us for the championship. We were gutted after we lost, we felt the same as if we had lost a serious championship game. We could have won it in normal time but their experience just got them back into it and they were deserving winners.
That final four years ago was great for the Tipp’s confidence. It definitely did help us, knowing we had put a lot into that league and that we had come so far and weren’t as far off as people were making us out to be. The next time we played Kilkenny after that was the All-Ireland Final, and there wasn’t much in that either”.
He says the scoreline (4-20 to 0-17) would suggest that the semi-final against Dublin was easy “but it was far from it.
We were wrecked after the game. Dublin made us work very hard.I think we just got a few lucky breaks, the last goal we got was something that would never happen again. It was a very tough game. There was a good championship feel to it because it was knock out”.
Tickets now available for League Final in Nowlan Park
Sunday’s Division One National Hurling League Final between Tipperary and Kilkenny at Nowlan Park starts at 3.30, and will be shown live on TG4.
Admission costs €20 for an adult stand ticket if purchased before match day and €25 if purchased on the day.
€10 concession refunds for OAPs and students with valid ID are available at designated stiles.
Tickets for juveniles cost €5 when accompanied by an adult.
Group passes are also on sale at €3 per juvenile, with one adult admitted free with 10 juveniles, adults outside quota €20.
Applications for group passes must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org from the club secretary’s e-mail address.