Brendan Maher remains optimistic
By Cian O’Connell
“I suppose this time last year I was looking on, the whole team was looking on, but my leg was in a brace and I didn't know what the future was going to hold in terms of hurling,” Brendan Maher says when reflecting upon a testing summer in 2018.
Tipperary’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship ended early, Maher had suffered a cruciate ligament injury so it was tough to try to process everything.
Maher, though, found a way to adequately cope, life lessons were learned, and now an All Ireland Quarter-Final against Laois beckons at Croke Park on Sunday.
“You'd have all sorts going through your head, but definitely 12 months on it is a great position to be in,” Maher admits.
“Obviously there was disappointment in Munster, but you just try to draw a line under that. You have lots to look forward to, you are in an All Ireland Quarter-Final, 70 minutes away from a Semi-Final, it is a great position to be in.”
The stint away from the game spent rehabbing and preparing for 2019 was well spent by Maher, who acknowledges that his outlook on sport has altered in recent times.
“Even with age my perspective on the whole thing has probably changed over the last number of years,” Maher states.
“You are getting older, going through what you have gone through, the ups and downs, different things going on in your life. You look at it a bit differently. You treat it for what it is, that is the only way I can describe it.
“I love playing, I love competing. There is more to life than sport, even this year in Borris-Ileigh it has been a particularly tough year off the pitch for families in the community.
“We have had tragedies and those type of things really make you look at it and not feel sorry for yourself if things don't go your way, if you have a bad game or don't make the team, things like that.”
Being that bit older and wiser means Maher feels that setbacks such as the Munster Final defeat to Limerick can be dealt with in a better way. “You do, it is a huge part of my life and a lot of my life revolves around it and it has been that way for the last 10 years, 11 years nearly now,” Maher remarks about his decorated inter-county career.
“It is a huge part of your life, but you have to have perspective. You have to treat it as sport, I'm lucky enough that I have a great support network around me.
“My family are always supportive, my girlfriend is always very supportive. She knows when I'm feeling down about things, the last day is a perfect example, I got away for a day or two to Kerry, to reset and chill out for a few days. You just move on.”
In Tipperary were hurling peppers the conversations and expectation is always attached to the blue and gold team Maher’s approach has altered when sport is on the agenda. “Definitely, the conversations you have with the public when you meet lads and they say different things to you, when they criticise you or criticise the team,” Maher responds.
“You just learn how to deal with it a little bit better with age and experience, whatever way you want to phrase it. It is an honour to play for Tipperary, that is the way I always look at it. Even when there is criticism coming you just take it for what it is which is somebody's opinion.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is not going to affect the way I approach the game or the way I approach playing for Tipperary. I treat it with the utmost respect, I always give 100 per cent, I can't do anything more.”
That Liam Sheedy is now patrolling the sideline again was always going to bring another layer of intrigue this summer. Maher has noticed some differences compared to when the passionate Portroe clubman was in charge of Tipperary previously.
“He is nearly 10 years older aswell, he has great experience in the meantime with different club teams and even with his punditry,” Maher comments. "He got to see things from a different perspective, I've great respect for Liam. He is a fantastic manager, he has assembled an unbelievable team around him.
“The passion he has for Tipperary certainly hasn't changed if anything it has grown. The energy he gives off every night at training, he motivates us greatly. You always want to perform for him, it is great he did decide to come back and it is an honour to play for him.”
Maher stresses the quality of the support structure Sheedy has stitched together too, highlighting how important that is now at the highest level.
“A great blend,” Maher acknowledges. “We have lots of people in the background helping out in their own way. It is a great backroom team, there is a great set up and a great atmosphere around the training.
“As a player that is something you really appreciate. As a player every night you go into training everything is laid out for you there so it is up to you to just play. You can focus on playing, not worry about all the other things Liam will have organised.
“Going in there it is a pleasure to go into train, he pushes us to our limits, he tries to create new limits. It is a really enjoyable environment to be in.”
Since the start of the year Maher has noticed how some of the 2018 All Ireland Under 21 winning outfit are beginning to emerge.
“We have a lot, I think 12 members of last year's Under 21 panel,” Maher comments. “That is a large number, our group is probably the only group that came close. I think we had 10 in '09 so it is probably the largest group ever to come through.
“While a lot of them probably haven't been seen this year the experience they are building up through training and just being on the panel will definitely stand to them.
“Jerome Cahill came on for his debut the last day in the Munster Final and did well when he came on. He had been suffering from injuries.
“Who knows we might see a few more of them next Sunday. It is a great blend to have, that mixture between experience and youth.
“They push us on, they have such energy and enthusiasm coming into training. They are pushing the older fellas on, we know we have to work for our jersey. If you don't perform, you aren't going to get it because they are ready to go.”
Down south following a blistering four match winning sequence Tipperary suffered in the Munster decider against a pumped up Limerick at the LIT Gaelic Grounds.
Cathal Barrett and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher’s injuries disturbed Tipperary, but Maher, who summoned a defiant display in a new full back line role, is not scrambling around for excuses. “It is the way sport is, aside from the two injuries we just didn't perform,” is Maher’s appraisal.
“We were outworked, we were very flat, probably a number of reasons for it. Maybe we left a bit on the training pitch, lads just had off days. It is unfortunate that it happened, but that is just sport.
“You have to try to move on. It is great to have another game to look forward to. If it was in the All Ireland series and you had a loss like that you would have to wait the bones of eight or nine months to get out there again. We are still there and we have lots to look forward.”
Despite the Limerick loss there remains huge sources of optimism for Tipperary, who want to deliver at GAA headquarters once more.
“Absolutely, we have played five games we have won four of them and performed very well in four games,” Maher replies. "We had comprehensive victories in all of them and we were in control. One bad performance we aren't going to let that knock us too much.
“We have to realise there are issues to address from the performance, but that is it because it was just one game. Things need to be rectified for the next day and that is what we hope to do.”