"Words just weren’t coming as easy to me" - McGrath explains terrifying symptoms of stroke she sufferred
By Daire Walsh
In the two years since Siobhan McGrath last donned the sky blue jersey, the personnel of the Dublin senior ladies football team has changed dramatically.
From the team that started their TG4 All-Ireland SFC decider defeat to Meath at Croke Park on September 5, 2021, only seven were in the first 15 for the Jackies’ Brendan Martin Cup semi-final win over Cork a fortnight ago.
In addition to McGrath, Ciara Trant, Niamh Collins, Sinead Goldrick, Lyndsey Davey and Siobhan Killeen aren’t currently part of the Dublin set-up for a variety of reasons, while substitutes Niamh McEvoy and Olwen Carey are also no longer involved.
A quarter-final loss to Donegal last year meant there was a degree of uncertainty over how Dublin’s campaign was going to pan out this time around, but with 2022 minors Niamh Donlon and Niamh Crowley amongst those to add fresh impetus, McGrath is pleasantly surprised to see her old team preparing for an All-Ireland showpiece against Kerry tomorrow afternoon.
“To be honest, when I look at the panel myself, there’s not a whole lot that I know.
"There’s two in particular, the two minors that came through this year. They’ve just settled in unbelievably, to be even starting the last day was just phenomenal for them. They don’t seem to be fazed by it,” McGrath said.
“They just go out and do their job. Obviously it’s their system, it’s the set-up that they have out there. You play, you train hard, you train well and you’re in. At the start of the year they were going back to regrouping, but they don’t look like a team that is regrouping anymore.”
Having featured in no fewer than eight Brendan Martin Cup finals during her inter-county career – coming away with an even number of wins and defeats – there is undoubtedly a part of McGrath that is missing being a part of the Dublin camp at this time of year.
She had previously stepped away from the panel in 2014 with just a solitary All-Ireland crown to her name from four years earlier, but was eventually coaxed back by Jackies manager Mick Bohan ahead of the 2018 inter-county season.
She found it hard to readjust to life as an inter-county footballer, but it eventually paid dividends for McGrath. As well as winning three All-Irelands on the bounce upon her return, she was also named TG4 Senior Players’ Player of the Year in 2019.
“Coming back in 2018, I struggled. I really struggled for a long period of time.
"I couldn’t get to the pace of it.
"Took me the guts of six months to feel like I was any way ready to play. Even when I was playing, I just didn’t feel like I could get to the pitch of it the way I wanted to, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Because it took one particular week and it all clicked.
“My fitness clicked, everything clicked. For me to come back and walk into an amazing set-up, an amazing team and in my first year back to win an All-Ireland, I was very lucky. It was special.”
After exiting the inter-county stage with four Celtic Crosses to her name, McGrath will now hope to go a step further than last year’s club championship, when she was part of a Thomas Davis side that narrowly lost out to Kilmacud Crokes in the Dublin Senior Ladies Football Championship final.
However, McGrath is also working hard off the field in her role as an Irish Heart Foundation ambassador and revealed recently that she suffered a stroke in June of last year – a few short months before lining out for Davis’ in that county final.
Waking up the morning after a club training session, she felt extremely fatigued and found normally routine tasks such as putting on a t-shirt, opening a window and turning off a house alarm to be more complicated than normal.
Recalling the Irish Heart Foundation’s Act F.A.S.T. campaign – standing for face, arms, speech and time - that aimed to raise awareness of the signs of a stroke, she realised that something wasn’t quite right.
Discovering that she was also speaking in double Dutch, McGrath then recognised the need for urgent action.
“Eventually when I could get a sentence down, I had to figure out how to unlock my phone first and then I rang my Mam. She didn’t really know what was going on, but she got the gist that I needed to go to the doctor or to a hospital. She came down to me. The symptoms lasted around 20 minutes, 25 minutes.
“My brain function was back, my speech was back but not fluid, I had to really think about what I was saying. Words just weren’t coming as easy to me. My hands were kind of normal again and I was able to lift my arm fine at that stage.
“I still went up to the doctor and he sent me to A & E. That’s where I got the test done. Obviously the symptom tests were all fine because my symptoms had passed and a CAT scan was done and that was clear, but once I got the MRI done it showed that there was a change in the brain.”
A week-long stay in Tallaght University Hospital followed, but McGrath was ultimately able to resume her working and sporting lives in a relatively short space of time.
Since revealing that she had a stroke, McGrath has been heartened by the reaction she has received in many different quarters.
Her hope is that by speaking about it so openly, she can help people to understand the importance of getting yourself checked if you are experiencing the symptoms of a stroke – regardless of how fit or active you think you might be.
“I’m actually really happy I did get involved because I had a lot of people come to me. Even just texting me saying that they had certain symptoms before and maybe now they’re going to get checked out themselves,” McGrath added.
“When somebody thinks of someone who is fit and young for what people think a stroke patient would be, that they think ‘okay, it could happen to really anyone’. It’s not that stereotype of an older person who is not that fit etc.
"It really can happen to anyone. Nobody is invincible. Hopefully it has made more people aware and to be looking out for the signs and not to ignore symptoms.”