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Shane McGrath poses for a pic.
Shane McGrath poses for a pic.

Tipp captain Shane McGrath draws inspiration from Martin Johnson

The player spoke to us about his admiration for the former England rugby international.
May 4th 2013, 10:15 AM 1,513 0

IN HIS NEW role as Tipperary senior hurling team captain this year, Shane McGrath hasn’t been afraid to tap multiple sources for advice.

His predecessors Paul Curran and Eoin Kelly have passed on valuable tit-bits.

But McGrath has also looked further afield, immersing himself in the ways of former England rugby skipper Martin Johnson.

McGrath read up on how, prior to the 2003 World Cup final against Australia, Johnson scanned the dressing room before his side entered Sydney’s Telstra Dome and knew that his teammates were ready.

“He just looked around the dressing room (and) decided that he didn’t have to say anything,” says McGrath (28).

“Something I have in my head is that we don’t have to sprint onto the field if we’re ready.

“GAA teams have a tendency – if you’re not racing onto the pitch you’re not fully right.

“I thought, just walking the teams out, have a quick look around at the boys, that’s what he did.”

Not sprinting out onto the Nowlan Park sod for tomorrow’s Allianz National Hurling League Division 1 final against Kilkenny would certainly mark a new departure for such a big game.

The traditionalists would surely wonder about a low-key entrance – particularly if Tipp ended up losing the game.

It’s a point not lost on McGrath, who laughs: “Sure that’s the thing! We’ll all just have to do a Usain Bolt on it!”

When the dust settles after the game McGrath acknowledges that lifting silverware in Kilkenny’s back yard would represent a quite special achievement for Tipperary.

The Premier County will attempt to reverse the result from the last time they faced Kilkenny in a League decider – a classic 2009 clash that went to extra-time at Semple Stadium.

The nature of Tipp’s performance four years ago fuelled a huge tilt at All-Ireland glory – with Liam Sheedy’s team falling just short against Kilkenny in September.

But 12 months later, Tipp scuppered Kilkenny’s quest for five-in-row in another memorable autumnal showpiece.

However, Kilkenny have had the upper hand since, winning the 2011 final and last year’s semi-final, the latter by a whopping 18-point margin.

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(Tipperary’s Shane McGrath tackled by Aidan Fogarty and Richie Power of Kilkenny – INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

Tipp gained some measure of revenge with a one-point success in Thurles back in March but the acid test now lies in store for Eamon O’Shea’s emerging side.

And as team leader, McGrath is aware of the significant surrounding the latest meeting between two of hurling’s traditional heavyweights.

He’s allowed himself to dream, too, of lifting the big trophies on offer.

The Ballinahinch man smiles: “It’d be great. As I said before, it’s such a massive honour for me, coming from where I come from.

“We’re never going to be county senior champions realistically so to be awarded this title of being captain of the Tipperary senior team is just massive.

“It’s huge for me and my family and everyone close to me around home. It’s a great buzz to be even thinking about leading out the boys the next day.”

McGrath is acutely aware that Tipp must be ready to face the formidable Kilkenny challenge.

The reigning League and All-Ireland champions may not have manager Brian Cody on the touchline but they have a host of multiple All-Ireland medallists and Allstars in their ranks.

And what they also possess, McGrath explains, is an ability to sense fear in opponents.

He explains: “They’ll just know – if you’re 100% committed to the ball or not, all great teams will know that.

“They’ll know as soon as the ball is thrown in whether we’re up for it or not.”

But former Allstar McGrath, who suffered a nasty hand injury against Cork in the opening round of League fixtures, insists that Tipp are in a better place than 12 months ago.

And he confirms: “Personally I feel I’m in a better place. I’m enjoying my hurling, we’re in a League final, which we weren’t last year – I think things are going very well this year.”

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Jackie Cahill

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