Sunday 21 January 2018

Time to tip scales and end talk of finals we've lost

Maher on mission to end reign of the Cat

Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile
Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile

Rewind to a Saturday evening in September, 2010. Tipperary U21 hurlers have just demolished Galway by 25 points, in front of their own exultant Semple Stadium supporters, to complete a six-day All-Ireland double.

Five of their U21s - Michael Cahill, Noel McGrath and the three Mahers, Pádraic, Brendan and Patrick (aka Bonner) - had also started for the Tipp seniors the previous Sunday in Croke Park.

That was the day Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five' was derailed by the brilliance of a Lar Corbett-inspired Tipp. Yet it was the burgeoning influence of all those Premier young guns - as much as their dazzling senior stagers like Corbett and Eoin Kelly - that left many convinced we were witnessing the dawn of a new era.

When the U21s went score-crazy against Galway, hitting 5-22, it almost felt like a coronation parade and that old boast depicting Thurles as the "home of hurling" never felt more apposite.

Giddy Week

Six years on and we're back in Thurles. Pádraic Maher is facing a line of dictaphones in the Anner Hotel, being asked to recall that giddy week ... did he think, back in 2010, that he'd have to wait so long for a second senior medal?

"If you asked me that week, I'd say 'That won't happen' ... but it has, and we've taken a lot of hits along the way," he concedes.

"We are nearly the older lads on the panel now, bar two or three lads out of the 35 or 36. We are roughly about 26-27 years of age. So we are still relatively young but we have a lot of experience.

"We have been in this position before. How many finals it is now against Kilkenny? We are preparing for a fifth final against Kilkenny; we have only come out the right side of that once.

"So we have to find something different this time round to get over the line, because we've been close the last time, a puck of the ball - but Kilkenny have always been on the right side of that puck."

When it comes to comparing Brian Cody-inflicted traumas, the Thurles Sarsfields powerhouse finds it hard to differentiate.

"They were all tough to take, being honest," he says.

"Obviously the first one (2009) stands out because it was my first final in my first year. We were so close to it.

"But they all hurt very much. The qualifier below (in Nowlan Park) in 2013 probably hurt as much as any of them.

"So again, it's a common theme we're coming back to. We're always talking about the games we've lost against Kilkenny, so it's about time we started talking about the games we've won."

With hindsight, Maher can see that Liam Sheedy's decision to step down as manager, in the immediate wake of delivering Liam MacCarthy in 2010, was "a bit of a setback" in the team's evolution.

"We were on a high after that, but then to be hit with Liam and the management leaving ... we won the Munster title the year after and still got back to the final, but lads did find it hard to change for a while there," he admits.

"Since I came on the panel we have had Liam, Declan (Ryan), Eamon (O'Shea) to Mick (Ryan) - that's a lot of managers to go through in a couple of years.

"Thankfully we are gaining experience the whole time. Mick is doing a fantastic job with us now. He is leading us in the right direction so hopefully we will reward him.

"Mick was there in Liam's time and then he got a couple of years under Eamon again. He has picked up a lot of experience in his time; he had added his own impetus too. "Mick brings a lot of honesty to the table and, once you are willing to put in the graft for him and are willing to try and do the right thing, he will back you up all day.

"That has been showing in our performances ... there is more enjoyment and there is no fear in us any more. Please God he will finish the year on a high."

Old Enemy

For all their lack of September silver, the people of Tipp always crave, even expect, success. Sunday's final against the old enemy is no different.

"They expect to win the Liam MacCarthy every year and we as players, that is our aim as well," Maher stresses.

"Obviously when you don't win it or you put in a performance like we did against Galway last year and lose, you are going to get a bit of criticism. At this stage of our lives, we are able to take that bit of criticism on the chin.

"We see nothing wrong with people demanding silverware, because we expect it as players. We believe we have the talent to do that; and if we are not doing that, then we are very disappointed.

"It's great that there's a bit of a buzz at the moment, but that buzz will only last if we bring back Liam MacCarthy and that is our full focus."

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