Noel McGrath is 28 and a living legend in Irish hurling, a game I believe is the fastest and greatest field game on earth.

On Sunday at Croke Park in Dublin, before 82,000 fans in the All-Ireland hurling final, McGrath lined out at midfield for Tipperary against perennial power Kilkenny and gave a display for the ages.

His touch on the ball is sublime.  At one point he performed an extraordinary sleight of hand by hand-passing the ball backward in a move that baffled his opponents.  How did he know there was a colleague directly behind him?

His greatest attribute, his vision of the field, was on incredible display as he delivered the ball 60 and 70 yards on a dime to forward colleagues. Time and again he set off attacks and despite being man-marked closely, he gave an exhibition.

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Tipperary handily defeated Kilkenny, a rare enough victory against a team that for many years had their number, and there was only one candidate for Man of the Match and indeed Player of the Year.

Noel McGrath has reached the pinnacle of his sport --despite being a cancer survivor.

It was April 2015 when he felt the lump in his testicles. He says he knew it seemed abnormal but hoped it was swelling from a hurling injury.

Tipperary GAA hurling crest.

Tipperary GAA hurling crest.

"You would notice it very quickly, and I knew straight away that something wasn't right," he said.

"I waited for a week or two to get it checked. I was hoping it might have been a knock I picked up in a match.”

But the diagnosis was testicular cancer at the age of just 24 and a lifetime of hurling ahead of him. 

"It all happened so fast. It took a while to realize what was actually going on because of the shock of it all. Even though I thought about what it might have been, once you're told what it is your body just sinks," he said.

"It's just that word that is associated with it, that just knocks you back. But there were good people around me, and they helped me through it."

From being a top-class athlete, McGrath became a cancer patient.

He was suddenly receiving chemotherapy instead of attending training sessions. At one point he was completely immobile for 10 days.

Yet McGrath persisted and incredibly was back on the Tipperary substitute bench for the All-Ireland semifinal in August of that same year.  The stadium as one, including supporters for both sides, gave him a standing ovation when he entered the game in the second half.

There was one more indelible image that day, the winning Galway manager Anthony Cunningham embracing him at the final whistle, an outstanding sporting moment.

These days McGrath is an ambassador for Movember, the global advocate for men’s health issues like testicular and prostate cancer, and mental health issues.

Paul Cummins of Movember said, "The big issue in Ireland is that men are reluctant to talk and they are reluctant to get checked and often leave it too late. They just hope it will go away.

"But to have Noel, a man who is so young and willing to talk out, it's just so great. He will have an incredible impact on men of all ages." 

McGrath also gives motivational talks to high school students and business groups. It is doubtful they will ever hear a more inspiring speech about going from the cancer ward back to the very top of the ancient game that all Irish people love. He is a genuine hero.

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