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'It’s an incredible occasion' - From 2020 heartbreak to Tipperary double success

They were very different tears this time around for Noel McGrath.

Noel McGrath (left) after the 2020 Tipperary SHC final defeat and (right) following the 2021 victory.
Noel McGrath (left) after the 2020 Tipperary SHC final defeat and (right) following the 2021 victory.
Image: Inpho

Updated Nov 29th 2021, 3:04 PM

FROM THE HEARTBREAK of 2020 to double success a year later. 

Loughmore-Castleiney could hardly have scripted a better response to their crushing county final defeats last season. 

In the space of seven days, they fell short in both the hurling and football deciders by a single point. Losing one county final is tough going. To fall agonisingly short on back-to-back weekends made for a long winter.

The sight of the inconsolable Noel McGrath flinging away his hurley after Kildangan stole victory in the dying seconds, and his tears after the final whistle, was a jarring one. 

But sport has a funny way of rewarding those who persevere.

14 months on, here was McGrath on the steps of the old stand in Semple Stadium lifting the Dan Breen Cup after their pulsating replay victory. It arrived a week after they took down defending champions Clonmel Commercials in the big ball code.

Loughmore-Castleiney have won four Tipperary SHC titles in their history and McGrath has been there for three of them across three different decades.

He was a 16-year-old free-taker for the 2007 decider that bridged a 19-year gap, while the 2013 and 2021 victories have also been accompanied by football successes.

To win both titles in the same season while drawing from virtually the same pool of players is an incredible feat for the club whose parish consists of around 1,000 people in mid-Tipperary. 

“Last week we managed to get by Commercials, the kingpins of Tipperary football. Today we got by Sarsfields, hurling kingpins,” said manager Frankie McGrath, who looks after both teams.

“(The 2020 defeats were) there in the background but it was never an issue that we focused on. As far as I was concerned we had had a fantastic season last year and we just came up a tiny bit short.

“This year was a brand new season, many different challenges, a longer schedule. the games started in summer and finished in different conditions. A lot happens.”

They’ve endured a heavy games schedule, lining out on 17 successive weekends across both codes. The addition to the backroom team of Mick Dempsey, the former Kilkenny fitness coach, undoubtedly helped them endure the physical toll of their dual commitments.

McGrath followed in the footsteps of Declan Laffan – currently in charge of Laois hurling champions Clough-Ballacolla – who likewise guided them to the senior double in 2013.

“Declan had this group for, I don’t know, the bones of 10 years, so it wasn’t too hard for me, Declan had an awful lot of work done with these guys,” offered McGrath. “Maybe I just brought something a little bit different to it this time, that’s all.

“I don’t need to tell ye how special it is, it’s an incredible occasion for our community,” he added. 

the-loughmore-castleiney-team-celebrate-winning The Loughmore-Castleiney team with the trophy. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

It’s put to him that few clubs could match the achievement of this group as they juggled two sports.

“If there is well I’m not aware of them myself, anyway. There are difficulties, and it probably contributed a little bit to our shooting. When you think about it, we had one training session since the drawn game – we had one hurling training session.

“And that’s under lights in a mucky field of a wet evening. So it’s hardly ideal preparation to fine-tune your team for today. But look, we found our form as it went along and we’re absolutely thrilled with the end result.”

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A tense finale was no surprise to McGrath. Neither was the sight of his nephew John McGrath holding his nerve with a stoppage-time sideline free that won the championship.

“Of course there is a lot of tension. Two local teams. a lot at stake. Sarsfields in their own way have a lot of pressure, kingpins of Tipperary hurling for many years.

“There is an expectation associated with them. we were in the final last year and it didn’t work out so there is another expectation in that. There was bound to be tension. And a greasy ball as well. I hope there was enough of good stuff in there to keep the people at home entertained.

john-mcgrath-scores-the-winning-point John McGrath of Loughmore-Castleiney scores the winning point. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“Oh sure that’s what John McGrath does,” he said of the winning point. “John McGrath is the man for the big stage. He’d probably hit it wide if we were above in training. But look, John had a spell there where things maybe weren’t going 100% for him with Tipperary and whatever like, but John has always delivered for us.

“Even going back, John was eight years of age playing in an under-12 county final and he scored two goals for us, like. U14 he did the same thing. Minor hurling county final he scored two goals on a day that maybe we hadn’t our best form either so it was no surprise to us that John nailed that free.”

And so they roll on into the provincial campaign. They’ll be pressed into action again next weekend, with Éire Óg first up in the Munster club SFC quarter-final.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien  / Reports from Semple Stadium

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