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Ken McGrath feels like 'one of the lucky ones' despite his 2014 health scare

The Waterford hurling legend has now made a full recovery from the open heart surgery he underwent.

Ken McGrath (centre) pictured at Waterford's Munster U21 hurling semi-final against Cork at Walsh Park in July 2014, just three months after undergoing open heart surgery.
Ken McGrath (centre) pictured at Waterford's Munster U21 hurling semi-final against Cork at Walsh Park in July 2014, just three months after undergoing open heart surgery.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LIFE IS GOOD for Ken McGrath these days.

A job he enjoys, a new addition to the family, managing his club’s senior hurling team and releasing an autobiography — McGrath has plenty to smile about.

Things are especially positive for the Waterford legend when the hurdles he encountered since retiring from hurling are added for perspective.

Just over two years ago, McGrath and his wife Dawn were still coming to terms with the financial implications of being forced to close their business when he underwent open heart surgery at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin.

“Every family or every person will have their challenges over their career or their life. I had 10, 15 years playing with Waterford — loved it, loved every minute of it,” said McGrath, who played his final championship game for his county in 2010.

The three-time All-Star hurler ran a sports shop in Waterford for four years, until the economic downturn led to its closure in 2011. But there were bigger challenges still to come.

“The recession hit and it hit Waterford unbelievably bad,” McGrath told The42. “Retail fell off a cliff down in Waterford city and we were probably not in the game long enough to sustain it. The business went. It was a tough couple of years, very tough.

“We put an awful lot of work into that. Our life and soul went into that for a few years. We knew it was failing in the last year or so, or the last few months, and you’re saying ‘we’ll push on and we’ll drive on’ the whole time.

“When it didn’t succeed, you’re nearly embarrassed putting up the ‘closing down’ signs, or whatever. You know you’ve failed again in something that you tried to put everything into. It was tough going. It was tough financially as well. But I suppose it all paled into insignificance when the heart problems started arising and started occurring.”

In December 2013, McGrath — at the age of 36 — suffered a brain haemorrhage and ended up spending several months at Ardkeen Hospital in Waterford after tests revealed an abnormal valve and infection in his heart. Fortunately, he made a full and swift recovery from the extensive surgery that was required the following April.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

“It was tough,” McGrath said. “It was more tough on Dawn, I suppose. She was at home with two kids and trying to work, whereas I was stuck in hospital getting fed every two or three hours, getting antibiotics, no bother. I had an easy enough life just trying to get better. Thankfully I did. The care I got in Waterford and in the Beacon was unbelievable.

“Three years ago maybe I was in a different place than I am now. Thankfully things have turned out for the good. I suppose you don’t give up hope. At times when the shop was gone we were struggling, we were under pressure, but we always felt that things would turn and change for us again.”

McGrath is kept busy these days by his role as Mount Sion senior hurling manager, his family — particularly his daughter Izzy, whose first birthday was earlier this month — and, of course, his full-time job. The 38-year-old is now assisting his younger brother and former team-mate Eoin with the running of his coffee business.

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McGrath: “I love it with Eoin. We have great craic. There’s three of us on the road now delivering coffee, drinking coffee all day and eating cakes. How bad! It’s a grand job and Izzy at home now too.”

Nevertheless, having encountered the fragility of life in 2014, McGrath insists he’s fortunate to have emerged from such a difficult and daunting spell. The tragic death of Munster Rugby head coach Anthony Foley last weekend served as a reminder of that.

“I think if I had let it go any longer, heart failure was my only option,” McGrath admitted. “Thanks be to God we got to it in time and the lads dealt with it in Waterford and then up in the Beacon. I’m flying. I’m a new man here. The energy I have is unreal. I was suffering for a few years [and] I didn’t really know.

“I’m probably one of the lucky ones. When you hear that story last weekend, it would rock you a small bit and it would have you thinking a small bit more about how lucky you are and how much we take life for granted.”

Published by Black & White, ‘Hand on Heart’ by Ken McGrath (with Michael Moynihan) is available now.

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