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Monday 26 September 2016

Maher's 'relief' as the burden is lifted

Long wait is over for Tipp tyros of 2010 ...

Tipperary boss Michael Ryan. Pic: Sportsfile
Tipperary boss Michael Ryan. Pic: Sportsfile
Pádraic Maher celebrates winning his second All-Ireland success, hoisting the Liam McCarthy Cup into the air. Pic: Sportsfile

With that second medal finally snared, Pádraic Maher can now admit it. To be a Tipp hurler for the last half-decade of waiting, hoping, losing, then losing some more, sometimes felt like a burden.

"Pure relief" ... that's how Maher sums up his emotions in the wake of Sunday's oh-so-long-awaited All-Ireland SHC victory.

The Thurles Sarsfields man knows that even the most spectacular of All-Ireland winners - as Tipp assuredly were two days ago - are guaranteed nothing the following year. Or the next one.

He was there at the epicentre of Tipperary's previous All-Ireland triumph of 2010, which was meant to signal the start of something glorious and sustained.

Carefree

"In 2010, I was like Ronan (his brother) and Mikey Breen, coming in with no fear. Carefree attitude, just going out and enjoying it," he recalls.

"The likes of myself, Brendan (Maher) and Noel (McGrath) and Mickey Cahill got caught up in the whole thing where there was a burden on our shoulders for the next few years.

"We felt that pressure. This year we got a release from that. I think that showed in our hurling performances."

Back in 2010, Maher, his namesakes Brendan and 'Bonner', McGrath and Cahill were the famous five who starred in two All-Irelands in a week. Senior deliverance against Kilkenny on the Sunday; an U21 cakewalk against Galway on the Saturday.

Kilkenny's Drive for Five was dead. The hurling world was at their feet. "It was mad," Maher now accepts, "in that you had to go play an under-21 final the next Saturday and had won two minors. So 2010 seemed like it happened all the time.

"We probably took it all for granted. Not only the players but everyone in Tipperary expected: 'This is it now, one after the other.' But it's not that easy when you come up against good teams like Kilkenny, and Galway caught us a few times as well. Just goes to show.

"Like, a couple of lads (on Sunday) weren't able to celebrate they were so tired. That's the effort you have to put in. But it's all worth it."

Maher, 27, looks a shoo-in to win his fourth All Star after delivering the latest in a series of ultra-consistent displays on the left flank of Tipperary's defence. But it wasn't All Stars he craved this year.

"It hasn't actually kicked in yet. I didn't know what to feel after the match. I can't put words to it - an unbelievable feeling and not the fact it was Kilkenny. Just being so close and now being able to get over the line," he explains.

Hunted

Bitter experience has taught him to take nothing for granted. Tipp are already installed as favourites for Liam MacCarthy in 2017, but they are now the hunted and there's a hungry pack on their tail.

As manager Michael Ryan points out: "The core of that team were the young fellas that were there in 2010. There was a lot of expectation put on that group, that they were going to move on, having won the U21. But life is never like that. It's not straight lines; it's all sorts of curves and twists.

"This group are mature," Ryan expands. "The example and leadership coming from those guys is second to none, it really is.

"We are going to have to refocus. We will certainly keep our feet on the ground. We are renowned in Tipp for getting carried away with ourselves when we win - we'll see how we get on with that.

"The backroom team is full of very, very strong people, very mature people. I think we've learned a lot of hard lessons over the years, that we need to manage victory a lot better than we have done."

Even in the dark times, Maher says they retained "100 per cent belief - but if we had lost (on Sunday) it would have been very hard to come back.

"I know it's very easy to say it now when you've won ... but to be beaten in another All-Ireland final, no matter who you are beaten by, would have been some sucker punch."

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