Wicklow's inspirational cancer survivor shows the real beauty of the GAA in poignant interview 4 years ago

Wicklow's inspirational cancer survivor shows the real beauty of the GAA in poignant interview

Where would some of us be without the GAA?

Where would you be without your mates there? The slagging. The hard hits. The heavy breathing.


You can get so caught up in the misery of it all sometimes. Dragging yourself to training, missing weekend trips, nights out, living the life of a monk listening to coaches berate you and, at the end of it all, you probably won't even win.

It's only when it's taken away from you that you realise how much you miss it. You realise how much you need that drive where you're building something with your club mates and you're part of something bigger than you all. You even miss the bitching and the moaning and your life circling around a little club house and pitch planted at the side of a road somewhere.

Exiles around the world feel like they're the lucky ones when they're leaving. They get to cut ties with the pressure and the scrutiny and commitment required to play in the GAA nowadays but then they look back with longing eyes at the craic at training that they're missing, at the big wins, at the conversations and plotting. They're missing what has become a part of them.

When Wicklow footballer John McGrath was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma back in 2011, it wasn't as if it all put sport into perspective and that it wasn't important anymore. It was the thing he wanted to make sure he got back to.

Even his early treatment courage was helped by his Baltinglass manager Tommy Murphy who text at the time to say: ‘every day’s treatment is a day closer to recovery’.


Then, McGrath had a vision and it was to get back the Wicklow jersey. He'll pull it on again on Sunday.

"The thoughts of missing out on that, I'd hate to step away," he said in the Independent.ie.

"It's only when it's taken away from you as it was in 2011 for me, it's then you realise how much you love it and how you'd hate to have to sit back and think 'jeez, what would I do if I couldn't play?'

"Every year I think I'll keep going back until my legs say 'no'."

What would any of us do if we couldn't play or be involved in some shape or form?

Of all the treatment and necessary dosages for recovery, the freedom that John McGrath was offered on a football pitch was the only drug he wanted to get back and targeting a return with his club Baltinglass was one of the first things on his mind.

He remembers the day he got back - listening to boys even slag him about fertility which thankfully didn't become a problem in the end. He remembers that because he was back part of the group and he even cherishes above all else taking a huge hit on the field - he wasn't being pitied, he wasn't being treated differently. He was back.

"That was the nicest feeling I’ve ever had," he told Dara Ó Cinneide in the Examiner back in 2012. "I was like a kid running around.

"I wanted to get on everything. I wanted the ball. Running here, running there, mad to get on it. The greatest feeling ever.

"I got the ball at one stage, 30 yards out and popped it over the bar. First time back. It was some feeling."

To get back to life where winning a football is the only thing that matters for 60 minutes on a Sunday must've felt like heaven after what he had been through.

"They had a tube coming into my chest, with three prongs, leading all the drugs into my heart," he described at the time. "Once it gets to the heart it pumps quicker to the entire bloodstream. Two-hour bags. And you’re just lying there, getting sick."

Now, he's just a GAA man again. On Sunday, he heads to play Meath in the O'Byrne Cup. That's what it's all about for John McGrath now. That's what it was always about.

He was never going to let it go.