At 20 years of age he’s likely to be the youngest player on the pitch in the All-Ireland Hurling Final. However in terms of honours won Noel McGrath is no novice.
His collection already includes one All-Ireland and two Munster Senior medals – as well as All-Ireland Minor and U-21 medals - and on Sunday he’ll be trying to win his second Celtic Cross.
The Loughmore player turned in a performance that was among those that lit up last year’s final. He scored one of his team’s four goals and his performance will be equally remembered for the sublime pass that sent Lar Corbett scampering clear to score another.
Twelve months later the teams find themselves in different positions, Tipperary as the champions and Kilkenny the challengers, but that doesn’t alter much, according to Noel. “We’re going up with the same attitude as with any other game. We’re going to win and give our best performance. Hopefully on the day we’ll be ready to give as good a performance as we can.
We know how good Kilkenny are, they’ve been there for so many years competing at the highest level and we know it’s not going to be easy”.
For all that, though, he suggests that last year’s experience will also stand to Tipp - “As All-Ireland champions we’ve been there before and we know what it takes”.
The team’s progression through the championship was relatively smooth until they encountered Dublin.
“The semi-final against Dublin was a tough game, a physical encounter and in fairness to them they had their work done. Thankfully we got through in the end by a few points.
The Munster Final just worked out so well for us, and everything that could go right did go right. We knew that in Croke Park against Dublin it was going to be a totally different game and it turned out that way. We were delighted to get the win and we’re back where we want to be”.
Noel has shrugged off suggestions that the five-week break between the Munster Final and All-Ireland semi-final might have done them no favours - “we knew that would happen if you won the Munster Final. But I suppose you don’t mind, you work as hard as you can and train as much as you can for the next game. Thankfully we were ready for the Dublin game and we got through it”.
Unlike last year, when they suffered a heavy defeat by Cork, Tipp have gone through this year’s championship undefeated, a situation that, according to the UCD student, is “very nice. We’ve been lucky enough to get through all the games unbeaten and we’re delighted to be where we are.
However it’s all the one whether you are unbeaten or not, we’re going in for one hell of a battle against Kilkenny and hopefully we’ll be ready for it”.
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