In June of last year in Semple Stadium, Clare knocked Tipperary out of the hurling championship with a two-point win.
After one loss and two draws, it was probably Tipperary’s best performance of the round-robin series but they conceded a five-point lead in the final 10 minutes and the 2016 All Ireland champions had to watch the rest of the hurling summer from their couches.
Fast forward 12 months and the narrative has performed a dramatic u-turn. Ten of the players who started that game in Semple lined out in Ennis yesterday and yet they looked like an entirely different team.
Their movement was class, their communication spot on and their scoring was nothing short of sublime at times. They looked like a team brimming with confidence and who are thoroughly enjoying their hurling.
Two players who looked back to their best were John and Noel McGrath. Their link-up play was as impressive as it was in 2016, their work rate was immense and they contributed a combined total of 1-8, all from play.
The Loughmore-Castleiney brothers are our focus in this week’s Championship Deep-Dive.
Noel McGrath has seemed far more comfortable stationed at midfield throughout the season so far and notably, he has been providing some excellent supply into the forward line with his eagle-eyed vision and instinctive reactions.
However, he has not lost his eye for scores as well and that has made him a very strong asset for Tipperary. It was his goal in the 21st minute that finally allowed them to put some space between themselves and Clare on the scoreboard.
When Tipperary overturn the ball in the forward line, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer instinctively runs at goal. Noel McGrath also sees the space straight down the middle and sprints in from midfield, breaking away from Colm Galvin. The pass looks like it will go to John McGrath but Bubbles bounces it across to Noel who gathers it on the run.
David McInerney drifts off John in the hope of intercepting the impending shot at goal but Noel instead passes the ball to his brother who is wide open. The younger McGrath, not expecting the pass, fumbles the ball but still manages to get a touch on it to pass it back to Noel who draws on it on the ground and knocks it past Donal Tuohy.
BACK OF THE NET by Tipperary's Noel McGrath! pic.twitter.com/5aTHJ14qVT
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 2, 2019
John McGrath was named man-of-the-match at the end of the game and deservedly so with six points from play. His point in the 53rd minute displayed all his class as a forward.
Tipperary were 12 points ahead at this stage but still appeared the far hungrier side. Conor Cleary sends an aimless ball in towards the Tipperary square but Padraic Maher, the free man back, plucks it from the air and instead of sending a booming shot back down the field, Maher handpasses the ball to Cathal Barrett who works it to Noel McGrath in the centre of the field.
McGrath sends a wonderful diagonal ball into space just in front of his brother. David Fitzgerald also chases the ball while Galvin runs back to cover the space, however, McGrath reaches the ball first and pulls on it first time instead of trying to rise it right on the sideline.
McGrath still has the attention of Fitzgerald but he expertly stops the ball dead before turning while the Clare defender over-runs it. This gives him the space to make an angle for himself and shoots with accuracy for one of the scores of the game.
The brothers displayed their almost telepathic connection again in the 60th minute in a move that set up John McGrath for his final score of the game.
Again, the move came from a poor clearance from the Clare defence. Galvin has plenty of time on the ball but chooses to aim it at Jack Browne in midfield who is closely marshalled, not just by Noel McGrath, but by John as well who has drifted out to the centre of the pitch.
The ball breaks off Browne and falls at the feet of John McGrath and knowing his brother is right behind him, he brilliantly flicks it back to him.
Browne is left trying to mark the two McGraths and follows the path of the ball to Noel, leaving John open. Before his brother has even risen the ball, he slips through two Clare defenders who notice his run too late. Noel turns and sends the soft pass directly into the hand of his awaiting brother and there is nothing Fitzgerald can do to prevent the score.
Tipperary look good and are three from three in the Munster round-robin series. If the McGrath brothers alongside in-form captain, Seamus Callanan can keep it up, then you’d be hard pressed to bet against them this year.