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Shane McGrath 'the medals are nice but the friendships are more important'

By Daire Walsh

SHANE MCGRATH FEATURE By Daire Walsh Despite finishing his stellar inter-county senior hurling career with an All-Ireland championship, five Munster titles and a National Hurling League crown, the mind of Tipperary’s Shane McGrath is often drawn back to the ones that got away.

Over the course of a decade-long spell in the blue and gold of the Premier County, the Ballinahinch man was involved in some epic duels with Kilkenny. Including a replay, the two small ball titans faced each other on All-Ireland final day on no fewer than five occasions from 2009 to 2014. There was also the small matter of three NHL deciders between the two in 2009, 2013 and 2014.

Either side of a three-point victory in the middle final, Kilkenny edged out their Munster rivals after extra-time in both 2009 and 2014. “We were very, very close. ’09 [All-Ireland] was probably the one that hurt the most, because we played brilliantly that day. We just didn’t get the result. Kilkenny got a penalty and Henry [Shefflin] buried it. It kind of shook us. For the majority of us, it was our first All-Ireland final in ’09,” McGrath remarked when speaking to The Backdoor GAA podcast last week.

“That was hard to take and then ’14, the first day, I only watched the match back for the first time in the lockdown. They had it on TG4 there one day. I’d never seen the match before that. It was an unbelievable game of hurling. It was score for score and I think there was only a handful of wide's between us.

“‘Bubbles’ had the free at the end [which was ruled wide by Hawkeye]. They were hard to take, that you could have had three All-Ireland medals. In ’11, I don’t think we were good enough. I think Kilkenny were better than us, they were better set up. They were hard to take.” Nevertheless, Tipp did produce a near-perfect performance to overcome Kilkenny in the 2010 All-Ireland showpiece - ending The Cats’ quest for a fifth consecutive Liam McCarthy Cup success in the process. McGrath had developed a formidable midfield partnership with Brendan Maher and thanks to a hattrick of goals from the excellent Lar Corbett, they emerged as emphatic 4-17 to 1-18.

While he ended his career in 2015 feeling that he could have added at least another All-Ireland to his list of accolades - they regained their Liam McCarthy title a year after his retirement - a recent Stateside trip brought home how lucky he is to have claimed the top prize in hurling. “I was on a trip recently and I actually ended up sharing a room with Ken McGrath. They brought a load of lads who retired, inter-county lads. It was over in a club in New York called Rockland. I was in the room with Ken McGrath and I was just saying to him ‘I could have had a few more All-Irelands’. “We were chatting about it and he just goes ‘I’d give anything to have the one All-Ireland medal you have’. People would be saying ‘oh, isn’t it great to have the one?’ When someone like Ken McGrath says it to you, I have to appreciate that.

If you have only one All-Ireland medal, you have one All-Ireland medal more than maybe 95% of people that played GAA. “It’s nice, it’s very, very special to have. We were a fierce close group and we’re still fierce close. That group of Tipp lads. I think that’s a sign of success as well. What kind of friendships you make out of it. The medals are nice, but I think those things are more important.

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