EAMON O’SHEA HAILED Noel McGrath as an inspiration as he made an emotional return to hurling.
Less than four months after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, McGrath came off the bench to a rapturous ovation in Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final.
He almost penned the ultimate fairytale when he pointed to edge Tipperary in front in the 70th minute of the Croke Park cliffhanger.
But it wasn’t to be as Jason Flynn and supersub Shane Moloney struck to give Galway the narrowest of wins and set up a showdown with Kilkenny on 6 September.
“You have to make judgements as a manager,” an emotional O’Shea said afterwards.
“You have to make serious judgements about a player and whether he can go in or not.
He went in. But more than that, and the word inspirational is thrown around a lot about players and managers, but you’ll never know inspiration until you’re faced with difficult, difficult things.
McGrath underwent surgery in mid-April, two days before Tipp’s defeat against Waterford in the league semi-finals.
But he made a remarkable recovery to return to club action, and then to the inter-county panel, before coming off the bench for the final eight minutes on Sunday.
“I remember the Wednesday before we played Waterford when he told the players, and we were devastated,” O’Shea said.
“We were devastated three or four days before we played Waterford. Again, that story won’t be told because it’s not in the winning and the losing, and I accept that.
“But having him with us and seeing the engagement of 30 guys around the players who were supportive of him – and him of us…
“If you’re looking for inspiration and you’re looking to really feel that there’s something worthwhile there… I really have to acknowledge that element.
He’s been an inspiration to me. And I’m getting a bit old to be an inspired any more by anybody. But he has really been that.
Galway boss Anthony Cunningham echoed O’Shea’s comments and said: “Life is about living.
“He is a perfect gentleman. Our best wishes were always to Noel, even when he was sick there. It is super to see him back.
Today is only a small blip in his hurling life.
“One or two guys I had on football panels down through the years had the same operation and I suppose the biggest challenge was to get back on the field.
“This guy is loved in Tipperary, loved all over the country for his style and his hurling.
“You have to have huge admiration for the guy. That is just what the GAA and hurling is about. It is epitomised by that guy coming on and playing.”