Maher: Character question 'is thrown out all the time'
By now, Brendan Maher is almost sick of hearing it - those recurring questions about Tipperary's character.
They were silenced by Tipp's indefatigable response to losing a man, falling five points behind Wexford, and even suffering the triple-whammy setback of three disallowed goals. But, doubtless, those questions will resurface again if Kilkenny turn the All-Ireland final screw.
Maybe this is just how Maher likes it: another chance to measure their mettle against that familiar Black-and-Amber benchmark. The Borris-Ileigh man, now 30, has featured in six All-Ireland finals since making his SHC debut in 2009. All six have been against Kilkenny.
Tipp have won two, drawn one (that 2014 epic) and lost three. August 18 has all the hallmarks of a magnificent seventh.
Yet, because Kilkenny have tended to win more than lose in this fabled rivalry, Tipp's character seems to get questioned far more. It was the same in the run-up to last Sunday's semi-final, against the stark backdrop of a Premier form dip against Limerick and then Laois.
"It's a question that is thrown out there all the time," Maher admitted after Tipp's backs-to-the-wall triumph.
"I suppose it's probably stemming from the games against Kilkenny where we have lost tight games. But you can look at that two ways and say, 'Kilkenny have been an unbelievable team over the last 10 years and we have been up there with them.'
"We have had our few wins and they've had their dominance over every team, so probably sick of that being thrown around the place.
"But, like, we are not going to answer it here. You answer it out there on the pitch, and we did a little bit of it today but there is another game to go."
No one could level such accusations on Sunday.
"For the guts of half-an-hour with 14 men ... I think the belief and character was shown," Maher declared. "We didn't feel any panic on the pitch and I think that's down to the hard work we have done since last November.
"There is only one way you can build belief and that is through hard work, and we have that done this year and it had to come out (against Wexford)."
No one epitomises that work ethic more than Maher. Eleven months after tearing his cruciate against Clare, he made his competitive Tipp comeback in their Munster round-robin opener against Cork in May.
"I'm delighted with the way I feel and the way I've come back," the -ex-skipper enthused.
"I put in an awful lot of work, a lot of stuff behind the scenes, a lot of early mornings, late nights, stuff that nobody would have seen, even outside team stuff - so that's paying off."
Did he always believe he'd made it back? "Yeah, you have to believe," he replied. "If you don't, it's a waste of time."
Maher paid special tribute to his namesake and defensive colleague Ronan Maher.
"The man is just a savage to train and he always delivers on the big stage ... no different to his older brother (Pádraic), the two of them were just colossal there," he enthused.
"The other thing that stood to us is our fitness levels. That has been questioned an awful lot, but a good few of the Wexford lads started to tire and you saw a few of them going down with cramp. There was none of our boys went down. They stayed going and, if anything, they got stronger in the last 15."