Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Fermanagh great Marty McGrath calls time

Gave his all: Marty McGrath has ended his long and distinguished Fermanagh career

Former Fermanagh captain, All-Star and International Rules player Marty McGrath has called time on his inter-county career.

Having made his debut in the National League during the winter of 1999, the St Joseph's clubman was one of a select band of players whose career spanned three decades. The only other current Ulster players who made their debut in the '90s are Stephen O'Neill of Tyrone and Monaghan's Dick Clerkin.

Speaking about his decision to draw the curtain on his county career, McGrath said: "I wouldn't have hidden the fact, and I would have mentioned it the odd time to the players and to (manager) Peter (Canavan) that it was possibly my last year."

McGrath lost his brother-in-law and county team-mate Brian Óg Maguire in an industrial accident just over a year ago and he states that paying tribute to Maguire's memory was a motivating factor in returning for duty in 2013.

"What happened made me go back and give it a big push. I wanted one last go at it and see how it worked out," he added.

As captain under Malachy O'Rourke in 2008, McGrath led Fermanagh to their first Ulster final since 1982, only to be beaten by Armagh after a replay. They came desperately close to sealing their first Anglo-Celt that season, but McGrath insists he will not be quitting with a sense of what might have been.

"You always think about dates and games and years, but you can't have any regrets. If you give it your all and you give yourself the best chance of doing something then you can't really regret it. At the end of the day, it just didn't work out for you," he said.

"In all the Fermanagh teams I played with there was a sense of belonging, like a club team."

During that summer of 2008, McGrath had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in the middle of that Championship campaign.

After dealing with two heart operations in 2006 and his encounter with a JCB digger on the family farm in 2007, his durability has become the stuff of legend.

On his cancer scare he explained: "It was told to me a few days before we played an Ulster semi-final against Derry. I thought the football was a good distraction for me at the time. The operation was going to collide with an Ulster final but I just thought I would give it all that I had and postpone it.

"Thankfully it has all worked out for me and I am on the right road from it. It's one of those things that when you are young you don't appreciate the severity of it."

In 2004, McGrath's performances as Fermanagh reached an All-Ireland semi-final, taking Mayo to a replay, brought him under the notice of the All-Star selection committee and, alongside Barry Owens, became the only other Erne men to earn the honour after Peter McGinnity. His favourite memory comes from that year.

"The one moment that stands out was Donegal in Clones in '04; I kicked the equalising point that brought it to extra-time and we won by a point to bring us back to Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh," he said.

"It was one of those games where we weren't going our best but we still did enough to creep over the line against a good Donegal team."

Later that year he was picked to play for Ireland in the International Rules as they triumphed over the touring party of Australians.

After he finished treatment for cancer in 2008, he hooked up again with the International team to tour Australia and they claimed the Cormac McAnallen Cup.

McGrath came on in the second Test to face the Aussies in the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground.

That tour lasted three weeks and, afterwards, he was just a week at home before he and Ryan McCluskey were brought away as All-Star replacements for a trip to San Francisco.

Now, he maintains that the time is right to dedicate himself to his club believing that making the break now is better for any incoming manager to the vacant Fermanagh post.

McGrath revealed: "I intend to play on as long as I can with Ederney because I love playing, love training too.

"I just want to be involved in a team spirit and that enjoyment you get from being in with a team.

"I don't want to walk away and have my playing days all over," he explained.

"I know I will have aches and pains all over but you have to go through the hard training over the winter with the club now too and I want to give full commitment to the club over the next couple of years."

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