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Thursday 14 December 2017

Holders must 'work our asses off' to survive semi-final Tribal test - Maher

Tipperary defender Pádraic Maher. Pic: Sportsfile
Tipperary defender Pádraic Maher. Pic: Sportsfile

It's a moot question: which dressing-room will have revenge uppermost in its thoughts as the clock ticks down towards Sunday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final?

Will it be a Galway team desperate to right the wrongs of last year's corresponding semi-final, when the Tribesmen were ahead on the hour only to be unhinged by the concession of two goals within a matter of minutes?

Or will it be a Tipperary team still carrying the scars of embarrassment from their Allianz League final trouncing at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds?

Truth is, when an All-Ireland semi-final place is up for grabs, no one should need any extra incentive.

But while Pádraic Maher stops short of describing Sunday as a 'revenge mission', the Tipperary half-back powerhouse does admit the memory of last April should fuel their motivation.

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

"We want to prove that we are never as poor as we were that day," says Maher, harking back to their shock collapse to a 16-point defeat, 3-21 to 0-14, in that Division 1 decider.

"It's going to be a massive game for us and the thing about it is that you have to have massive motivation going into a game like this, because the last two years have shown that there is nothing between Tipp and Galway when it comes to championship.

Criticised

"We are always going to be criticised after a result like that," he goes on.

"The manner of the way we were beaten - we were well-beaten - you are going to have to take it on the chin and move on.

"I think slowly but surely we are getting back to where we want to be.

"We are by no means at that at the moment, but we are very close.

"Once we get the work-rate right and we get the tackle count right, we feel our hurling will finish the job."

By the same token, the four-time All Star appreciates that there has been just a hair's breadth between these two fearsome rivals in recent summer combat.

In 2015, not even Séamus Callanan's 3-9 heroics could save Tipp from a one-point defeat in a rip-roaring semi-final that ended 0-26 to 3-16. Last year it was same margin, different outcome: Tipp 2-19 Galway 2-18.

"We know nothing else is going to get us through but to work our asses off against Galway, because they are the kind of team that do the same," Maher points out.

"They have a really strong work ethic within the group at the moment. You can see that in the games they played, so we have to match it and beat it if we can."

He accepts that those ingredients were missing in the league final - and, albeit to a less obvious and calamitous extent, in the subsequent Munster quarter-final exit to Cork.

Flashes

But the All-Ireland holders have subsequently regrouped and a necklace of three consecutive wins (over Westmeath, Dublin and Clare) have paved the way back to Croker.

Maher has seen flashes of the savage hunger and work ethic that made Michael Ryan's team such compelling champions last September. But a lot more will be needed against the favourites to succeed them.

"You would notice it," he says. "It was one massive area we were missing in the Galway game in the league final, and a lot of the Cork game too - it was a very open, loose kind of game.

"We knew we had to get back to basics and get our work-rate (right). And we know if we hit those points on the head, it will take a fair team to beat us.

"We are working on that area and it is what Mick demands of us, ever since he came in at the start of 2016 ... he wanted us to give our all and work as hard as we can, and our hurling would take care of itself after that."

On the down side, there were elements of their quarter-final victory that won't cut it against the Tribesmen - especially the first half defensive looseness that led to a brace of quickfire Banner goals at a time when Clare appeared to be reeling.

Character

Much later, Clare reeled off six unanswered points to get within one after 65 minutes. What followed, though, was as much about character as class.

"In fairness to the lads, there is massive belief in the group and that comes from experience over the last number of years and it was great to be able to draw on it," Maher enthuses.

"Maybe we would have folded a couple of years ago but the belief within the group is massive at the moment.

"We gave them an opportunity to get back in the game, which they took, but you'd have to take the positive out of it in that we finished the game very strongly."

Now they need something similar on Sunday, only better. And not just at the finish.

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