Fit-again defender Pádraic Maher ready to put shoulder to wheel in pursuit of Premier prize
Fit-again defender ready to put shoulder to wheel in pursuit of Premier prize
ALL-IRELAND SHC SEMI-FINAL
FOR Pádraic Maher, every year is make or break. And every big knockout battle, such as Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, is do or die.
It's not about building for the long-term but about the here and now. Not when you've one senior All-Ireland medal in the back pocket, despite having played in five finals - three defeats, one draw and that one now-distant success in 2010. Not when you're from Tipp.
"Tipperary people - us as players and supporters - want to win it every year. And that should be the way," he says.
"Every time we come in in November, December, January for training, our goal is to win the All-Ireland. The same with the other two or three teams.
"That doesn't change. The Tipperary team has changed massively over the last number of years. People think, just because it's being backboned by the same players … our average age is only 25 or so," adds Maher, himself still only 26.
"It's one of the youngest teams out there. Eamonn has brought in lads gradually, and got rid of more lads. Every year is a make or break year as far as we're concerned. Look, all we want is success and we probably haven't done that enough in the last few years.
"So, again this year, we focus on the now and that's the Galway game in 2015."
For a couple of worrying weeks, the centre-back powerhouse wasn't even sure if he'd be right for the semis. He had finished the Munster final against Waterford, as much through adrenaline as anything else.
He had suffered ligament damage to his AC joint (shoulder) in the first half. A case of unstoppable force meeting immovable object: "The Brick (Michael Walsh) caught me. It wasn't a big massive shoulder or anything, just the way he caught me. He kind of drove the shoulder up," he recalls.
"I got through it thankfully anyway. I suppose for me it was a Munster final in Thurles. We were mad to get back there the last two years ... we weren't going to go down without a fight. I wasn't going to go off too easy if I wasn't putting the team in too much danger."
He lasted the full 70 but left Semple Stadium with his left arm in a sling. There followed a good fortnight of trepidation.
"The week after the Munster final it was so sore I didn't know what way it was going to end up," he admits. "I did the same one last year, so I knew the protocol. Thankfully, the last two weeks or that I've been able to do a nice bit of training."
He professes no long-term worries about needing shoulder surgery, nor is he too perturbed about the five-week gap to Sunday's semi-final.
In his own afflicted case, the break obviously helped. As for the collective, he declares: "The break from the league to the Limerick match was massive, and we dealt with that fine. You want to go the front-door route - it's the easiest option. You get the bit of silverware to give you momentum too."
The flip side is that they also face rivals with serious momentum, fresh from obliterating Cork.
It's a far cry from last year's watershed qualifier in Thurles. Then, Tipperary were in a fragile place after losing, for the second June running, to Limerick. Fatigue was arguably the big issue for Galway, having lost a two-game saga with Kilkenny and now facing into a third straight weekend of heavyweight action.
Towards the end of the third quarter, Tipp were six adrift and sinking. Johnny Glynn was wreaking havoc on the square's edge, taking Maher for two goals after half-time. Then the Thurles man switched roles with James Barry, out to happier half-back haunts ... he caught fire, so did his team, they won by nine and they almost won the All-Ireland too. It was his last full-back outing.
He harks back to that Galway qualifier and how it "gave us a great lift for the rest of the year." But he warns that Galway, since then, have "come on a massive amount" too, adding: "When they get a roll on you, they can punish you."
Whatever happens this Sunday or beyond, this will be Eamonn O'Shea's swansong season. Maher waxes lyrical about a man who is "a dream to play for".
But O'Shea has experienced the flip side of managing Tipp - such as in the pressurised build-up to last year's date with Galway.
Today there is "plenty" of good will towards the group. "I suppose it's easier when you're winning," Maher surmises.
"Supporters can be fickle. They're demanding - and so they should be. Like, we're demanding of each other as players, inside in training every night.
"Winning a Munster final and stuff does take the heat off you.
"But no doubt about it, if we don't finish up the year the way we want to be, we'll get criticism again. But that's all part and parcel of it now."