Thursday 21 February 2019

'We tried too hard last year'

New championship format sets up 'savage' Munster Championship

TOP CLASS: Tipp’s Brendan
Maher in action against
Kilkenny’s Conor Browne
during their Allianz HL Division
1A Round 4 clash at Nowlan
Park on February 25
Pic: Sportsfile
TOP CLASS: Tipp’s Brendan Maher in action against Kilkenny’s Conor Browne during their Allianz HL Division 1A Round 4 clash at Nowlan Park on February 25 Pic: Sportsfile

It's the week of a league Division 1 final featuring hurling's most endearing rivalry yet the spectre of summer and the excited uncertainty of what might transpire looms large.

For Tipperary and Brendan Maher, their entire winter and spring has been carefully manicured to present the squad in as focused, fit and prepared a state for a Munster Championship that sees them play four consecutive weekends, not long after one round of club championship fixtures, having gone through an eight-game league programme that might well end with silverware.

Given that Maher's league final record is played four, lost four - he's not inclined to take anything as read with regard to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park this Sunday but there are bigger priorities on the horizon for both counties.

Maher, a self-confessed "deep thinker," when it comes to hurling, has already found his mind wandering to the consequences of such a condensed, hectic beginning to this coming summer.

"If you think of what the league has been like over the last number of years, people have been saying how the games have been so good, full of open expansive hurling and maybe there is something in it that teams don't have a lot of time to think about what is coming," he points out.

"You literally have six days preparation now between games, so as a player you are not going to have time to over-think it.


"In the new championship, you are going to be recovering from one game and the next one is coming on the Saturday night.

"So you might see more expansive, open games because you are not going to see that level of preparation between the games.

"There are not going to be huge tactical discussions or a lot of thought being put into how teams set-up.

"There will be thought put into it but you will only have six days to prepare and I think you will see some great games.

"The Munster Championship will be savage," Maher confidently predicts.

"There are five teams who can all win and it is going to be cut-throat stuff.

"It is going to be tough and there are going to be challenges.

"Like, a dead leg might rule you out of a game.

"That is the one thing you would be thinking about, a minor injury could rule you out of one game, possibly two.

"We have four games in 21 days so you want to make sure you can play as much as possible and recover well in between them."

If Maher's giddy anticipation is partly linked to the new format, it's also entwined in a fresher approach to this season.

So consumed did Tipperary become last year in trying to avoid the self fulfilling prophecy of being the county, in modern times, that never retains an All-Ireland SHC, they over-trained and knocked all the enjoyment out of 2017.

"We were so conscious of not being complacent that we ended up over-training and just drained ourselves," he explains.

"Talk of back-to-back, of complacency setting in, we were so conscious of that, we just over did it.

"We talked about it all the time, always in the back of our heads, train hard, not to let any softness set it."

Though they came within Joe Canning's miracle point of another All-Ireland SHC final, Tipp looked like a team worn out by the journey, rather than energised by it.

"We just put too much pressure on ourselves, trying to make sure we had those levels every night at training," Maher recalls.

"That's one of the differences this year, we're probably holding back a little at training, the guys are monitoring a little more.

"We do the 70-minute sessions, not the 90 (minute). Even if we feel or ask for more they say 'no, that's the length of the session'.

"So," Maher concludes, "it's just about getting that balance."

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