PwC GPA Player of the Month for camogie in July, Siobhan McGrath, in action for Galway recently. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Sweet 16

'It's nice going in so young because you have that freedom. There's no pressure on you'

Siobhan McGrath is looking forward to a big few weeks after an enjoyable summer – and an impressive Galway career to date.

IT’S FAIR TO say that Siobhan McGrath is enjoying her summer’s hurling.

The Galway star is delighted to be back playing championship at the traditional time of year, after last season’s edition in the run-up to Christmas.

“It feels a bit more normal,” she beams, “compared to last year. It’s been brilliant. You’re playing at the best time of the year, you’re not worrying about the winter slog or anything like that. It’s nice from that point of view.”

Add in a recent win over the reigning All-Ireland champions and redemption for last year’s final defeat, and she should be laughing.

But the Sarsfields club All-Ireland-winning youngster knows better. Yes, it’s one up on Kilkenny, but they won’t read too far into it. A win in the group stages counts for absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“In previous years, we’ve kind of done the same,” McGrath nods, with her side safely through to the All-Ireland semi-finals and the Cats taking the scenic route.

“We’ve bet one of the stronger teams in a group stage and come the knockout stage, it’s a completely different ball game.

“Although it’s great any time you beat a stronger team, we have our feet firmly on the ground, realising that it’s a long way from that match to knockout. A lot of things can change. You don’t know what way a different team can set up or anything.

“We know ourselves. Of course, any day you win, it’s a nice feeling and a nice boost but at the same time, it was only a group match where we both were through to the knockout stages anyway. We have to keep that in mind.”

That said, they’ll certainly take great confidence from the result, given the nature of the win, and the fact that they inflicted what could be seen as a huge psychological blow on their rivals.

Galway were reduced to 14 players for 45 minutes after the dismissal of Catherine Finnerty, and three points down at half time. Their 1-3 without reply after the break paved the way for the triumph, McGrath delivering the game’s only goal.

The big question: what changed at half-time?

“It’s not like the management absolutely roared us out of it or anything, it wasn’t anything like that,” she grins, debating if the slight wind advantage helped.

“I don’t know actually, I can’t really put my finger on what it was. I think we kind of just regrouped at half time, maybe we needed those few minutes to settle ourselves. The red card happened just before the water break, but there’s only so much you can say in a minute, in that water break.

“I think it was just the fact that we kind of just had time at half time to talk about it. A big thing, I think, was none of us panicked on the pitch. I think that was the biggest thing really.”

“The most satisfying thing for us was that we never gave up,” she added. “I think our work-rate was really good that day. Not even that we won, but the way we responded after the red card, that was probably the biggest thing to take away. Those games bring you on, and it gives you a bit of confidence going into the knockout stages.”

siobhan-mcgrath-with-julie-anne-bourke In action for the seniors in 2017. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

This is McGrath’s fourth season on the panel. Involved every year but the All-Ireland-winning one of 2019 since her debut campaign in 2017, she casts her mind back to those early days. She was just 16 at the time; still U16, still a minor.

“I was lucky in the sense that my three older sisters were on the panel that year,” she says, with a nod to Orlaith, Niamh and Clodagh, all daughters of Michael ‘Hopper’.

“I was very lucky that way. I was still obviously really nervous for the first training session because these are the players you look up to and ones you’ve been looking at for years before that.

“I think it’s nice going in so young though because you have that freedom in a way. There’s no pressure on you at all to perform because you’re so young. It was actually fine, like.

“Obviously you’d be kind of nervous at the start but once you get into it, it’s fine. There’s no pressure at all on you. If you perform, you perform, and if you don’t, you have the young age excuse for yourself anyway.”

A few short years on, her role, she says, hasn’t changed too drastically.

“Within the Galway team, you never have to worry about being a leader because we have so many brilliant, brilliant older players. When I say older, I don’t mean they’re that ancient or anything but they’ve been around for so long!

“There’s no real issue of someone having to take a leadership role because we just have leaders all over the pitch. You don’t really need to think about that really, you just try and perform to your best.”

That’s certainly the plan for 2021, McGrath needing little to no reminder about how the curtain came down last year.

Brian Dowling’s side Kilkenny dethroned Galway in the decider, ending three years of hurt in doing so. The Tribe now carry that, and use it as motivation to get back to the summit.

“It was frustrating last December. I don’t think we really played to our potential but at the same time, that was because Kilkenny were just brilliant on the day. They kind of just shut us down everywhere on the pitch. That was more from how good they played than us.

“Of course, you’re trying to right the wrongs from last year, but at the same time, you can’t look too far ahead and focus on an All-Ireland final, because at the end of the day, any one that we get in the semi-final, you know that it’s going to be an absolutely mammoth task to get back into a final.

“We’re trying to get back there but at the same time, just looking at the semi-final for the time being.”

siobhan-mcgrath-dejected-after-the-game Disappointment after last year's All-Ireland final. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Standards are constantly rising — “there isn’t just two or three [top] teams any more, like there used to be a few years ago,” she assures. “There’s so many teams that on any given day, they could beat anyone” — and the next few weeks should be interesting in the race for the O’Duffy Cup.

With a month between that group game against Kilkenny to All-Ireland semi-final weekend, McGrath agknowledges the “very big gap”.

“It’s hard to know how to approach it in a way. Of course, we’re training hard at the minute but you’re kind of waiting to see who you’re actually playing in the semi-final.

“You might set up differently against a particular team. It depends. This week or two, you’re trying to get a bit of hard training in and then taper it down a bit closer to it. You’d wonder as well, four weeks is a long time.

“Whoever is coming through a quarter-final, will they have that bit of momentum after a good match like that. It’s hard to know how to get it right really in a lot of ways.”

But she’ll truck on, and Galway will ultimately focus on themselves and producing a performance.

A PE Teaching student in University of Limerick [UL], she’s looking forward to getting back to college in September and actually being based on campus for lectures too.

An even better Autumn may lie ahead so, after the enjoyable summer.

- Siobhan McGrath was speaking as PwC GPA Player of the Month for camogie in July.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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