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'I just needed a break from everything - I needed to go and be different for a while'

Stalwart Siobhán McGrath is enjoying her third coming with Dublin.

ON THE FOURTH Sunday of September last year, Siobhán McGrath was one of the 46,286 watching on as Dublin made it fourth time lucky and lifted the All-Ireland title.

Siobhan McGrath with Caitriona Cormican Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

She smiled from the stand as teammates and friends she had soldiered with for so long finally put three years of hurt and heartbreak to bed, climbing the steps of the Hogan to lift the Brendan Martin Cup.

“To be fair, I had no regret,” she smiles looking back 12 months or so. “Delighted for the girls, so emotional for them. It was so amazing to come back and see that kind of crowd for ladies football. I was just so proud of them.”

That January, she had returned to home soil after two and-a-half years in Australia. Working, traveling, enjoying life, a bit of social football; the usual venture Down Under. 

She left shortly after the 2014 All-Ireland final loss. One to forget. Dublin were ten points up with 15 minutes remaining but Cork produced the most epic of comebacks to run out one-point winners. 

That defeat had no affect on McGrath’s decision. She was going anyway, hoping to leave on a high after all her years in the blue jersey but it didn’t work out that way.

“I just needed a break from everything,” she continues. It’s worth noting that she made her senior debut for the Jackies in 2003 at the tender age of 15, and is an accountant, now back working for CBRE.

“Life was just very regimented and seriously committed and I just needed to go and be different for a little while,” she laughs.

Deirdre O’Reilly and Siobhan McGrath Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

That she did. She tells stories of canyon swinging in New Zealand, splitting her time between Sydney and Melbourne, preferring the latter. She was living the dream, enjoying herself and the lifestyle.

But she was always going home.

Football didn’t pull her back though. She felt she had done her time for Dublin, she had done enough years and wasn’t going back to that level.

But strange things can happen in life and as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. 

“I probably put a few feeders out and then I got a call,” the Thomas Davis star grins when she’s asked if she contacted Mick Bohan first or he reached out to her. 

“I had spoken to her last April,” the Dublin boss later explained. “She was back in Ireland but she was looking to review a visa to go back to Australia. She said, ‘Look, I wouldn’t be close to where those guys are at and I’m not coming back to let myself down.’

“I was trying to convince her that there was plenty of time between April and August or September if it was to go well but she said no — ‘they’ve done the hard yards and I haven’t.’

“I think there was huge doubt in her head. she’s one of those people, if she hasn’t ticked all the boxes, she can’t jump.”

She jumped this year though. Why?

Siobhan McGrath Source: James Crombie

“I think you always have that in you,” she smiles. “I really enjoyed my time away and when I came home last year… you think you’re happy with that lifestyle but then you realise that’s what really in you — that you like to be that competitive.

“You like to have that drive, I really missed it. You’re still playing senior club football but it’s just not the same thing.”

McGrath had led the Thomas Davis charge to the All-Ireland junior title in 2012, the intermediate decider the following year and into the senior county ranks.

But that 2010 All-Ireland title with Dublin, the back-to-back All-Stars, the near misses and much more surely were all factors which drew her back to the county set-up.

The sheer competitive edge and drive. 

And she was thrown straight back into the deep end upon her return this year. Earn that spot back the hard way.

“The first night back was daunting,” she admits.

“I obviously knew I had so much work to do, the conditioning, strength, fitness, speed. Everything’s at a different level from the years since I’ve been gone. Just knowing that I had that much work to do was a bit scary but the girls and management have been great.

Siobhan McGrath and Gemma Fay celebrate Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“They’ve pushed me to where I need to be. It took me a good few months to get there but by training with these girls you’re gonna go that way.”

Since her debut year in 2003 — Bohan was manager then and they reached the All-Ireland decider — the game has changed something serious; standards, conditioning, science, the list goes on.

Even just simpler things.

“The level of how hard you push your body,” she notes, when asked if there’s something she looks at now and thinks, ‘I can’t believe we did that back then’.

“Now there’s more emphasis on controlling it, making sure the body is right rather than just ‘get out there and run 20 miles and push yourself as hard as you can’.

“Back then a manager would pretty much have been delighted to see his team puking at the end of a training session. The control is so much better now.”

“I feel like I’ve been through three eras now,” she grins. “When I stared you had the Martina Farrrell, Louise Kelly and those. Then we had Denise Masterson and ‘Bangers’ (Maria Kavanagh) and that era, and now it’s the younger ones again.”

Siobhan McGrath Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A third coming. Not bad.

And in the way of marking a superb return year to the fold with an All-Ireland title stand Cork. The old enemy.

McGrath will take it all in her stride though as she lines out in the half-backs. Interestingly, the only change to Dublin’s 2017 All-Ireland starting team.

“I think we just have to trust and believe in our ability and what we’ve been working on,” she concludes. Focus on yourself, control the controllables.

“It’s all about the performance on the day, we don’t focus on fact that we’re All-Ireland champions, it’s a level playing field on Sunday.”

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Emma Duffy

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