THE Noresiders are known as the Cats, and the stripey hurling men have the predatory instincts of the most deadly feline, it has been suggested.
Tipperary captain, Shane McGrath, has enjoyed good and bad hurling days against Kilkenny, and those up and down times have warned him that if the Premier County are not ready they will be blown away in Sunday’s National Hurling League final in Nowlan Park.
The Ballinahinch clubman, who admitted to being shocked beyond belief when invited to become the Tipperary captain, viewed Kilkenny as THE team – the one from whom all the rest can learn.
“If you are not right against these boys you haven’t a hope,” he said of Kilkenny. “They will know. They can almost sense it in you if you are up for it or not.
“I don’t know what they sniff. They are probably sick of hearing it, but they have set the standard in hurling. They brought things to a whole new level. In the mid-nineties when Clare broke through we thought hurling couldn’t get any faster.
“Next thing this Kilkenny group arrived and they have taken things to a different level. They just know, they will know if you are 100% committed to the ball or not. All great teams know it.
“The great soccer teams; Barcelona, although they were beaten the other night; they know if you are up for a game or not. We just have to be. It will be over at half-time if we are not.”
Spoke from the heart
The flying midfielder wasn’t simply laying it on in pre-final talk. He was speaking openly, honestly and from the heart.
“They sense a weakness in you,” he continued. “They will expose you ruthlessly. They are the best at that. There is no point in saying anything else. They will know as soon as the ball is thrown-in whether or not we are up for it.
“They are a ruthless team. They are going to go down in history as the greatest team in hurling, and rightly so.”
Do you resent or admire that in them, he was asked at the Tipperary pre-final press conference?
“There is a bit of both,” came the instant reply. “There is a bit of jealousy. That is only natural from any hurler anywhere in the country who wants success. You have to learn from them. How to we become the best? We learn from them. That is the way in any sport.”
McGrath suggested that Tipperary were further along the road than they were this time last year, if only because they were in the League final.
Finished last year
“We were finished with the League at this time last year. In 30 years time if you ask anyone who won the League in 2013 they won’t remember. But they will remember who wins the All-Ireland.
“It is great to be in the League final. It is the best preparation you could ask for before the championship.”
And being captain wasn’t a draining experience as far as he was concerned.
“I am in a better place,” he said of his game generally. “I am enjoying my hurling. I think things are going very well for us. We are doing fine. Training is going fine. Lads are in good form.
“That makes a big difference. You are looking forward to going training and to meeting the boys. Realistically they are you family for nine or 10 months if you go well in the championship.”
Final a million miles away
However, he admitted that an appearance in the final looked a million miles away the night Tipp came home from Cork after the potentially shattering defeat in the opening match.
He was low because he suffered a hand injury he feared might sideline him for months. The next day he got good news about his hand. The next night at training the mood in the camp was defiant. Tipp were on the march.
“We knew that would never, ever happen again,” he said of a big defeat that was the story of the day. “I thing Cork would agree. It was one of those days when nothing went right. The only way was up from there.
“We are a mature bunch. We have played on a lot of big days. Thankfully things came up. We have gone well since.”
And so the visit to Nowlan Park!
“It is an intimidating place to play,” Noel admitted. “There will be a huge Kilkenny crowd. I hope there will be a big Tipp crowd too and any neutral within 50 miles will make it too. It has the makings of a great game.
“We have had good and some very, very bad days there. We will think of the good days and hopefully we can have another. We can if our heads are right. If not we will get blown away.”