Tipperary's Brendan Maher optimistic ahead of 2020 campaign
By Cian O'Connell
Brendan Maher simply remained a believer. Even when doubts started to creep into his head, the Borris-Ileigh clubman tried to stay focused.
At this stage last year Maher was commencing his comeback trail following a severe knee injury.
So Tipperary's stirring rejuvenation under Liam Sheedy in 2019 mattered deeply to Maher, who made a sterling contribution in the blue and gold.
"I always believed I could get back, but in saying that I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when you’d have doubts in your head," says Maher the Gaelic Writers' Association's Hurling Personality of the Year, sponsored by Sky Sports.
"You’d have some tough days. I stuck to the recovery process – there would be times when you were making good progress but then there would be days when the knee would get sore, and you’d find yourself thinking ‘the week before it was better than it is now.’ So you’d end up and wondering what’s wrong. So you’d have doubts every so often.
"But I was very fortunate with the support network I had around me in Tipperary, the likes of Dr Brendan Murphy, Paddy O’Brien (physio) and Cairbre Ó Cairealláin (strength and conditioning coach). "They were brilliant at putting your mind at ease. When you’d start worrying that something wasn’t right, that something was off they’d look at it be telling you it was normal, that it was all part of the recovery process.
"So when it might flare up or you were finding it hard, it was great to have them around."
Different challenges existed for Maher, who sought to keep a positive mindset, but that wasn't always easy.
"I found training on my own a major struggle," Maher admits. "When you are away from the group and training alone, I found it hard. There were some sessions where I wouldn’t finish them.
"Mentally that was very difficult, there was about a two-week period where that was happening, so I decided I had to do something. I rang our physio Paddy O’Brien and told him I was struggling with training on my own.
"I asked him if he would supervise my sessions, just to have somebody there and he then suggested training with Seamie (Callanan) – who was coming back from a bad injury. So we trained away together in a local gym and that was a major help for me.
"Around the end of October then or start of November I met Cairbre, our new strength and conditioning coach. He brought a group of us in training then, other lads coming back from injuries and pre-season.
"We were in Thurles and that was a real lift because you felt you were kind of back involved again with the group."
It turned into a thoroughly productive stint for Tipperary, who returned to the summit of the hurling world.
"I did enjoy the season, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel any pressure," Maher reflects. "I did feel pressure in some of the man-marking jobs I was asked to do, essentially picking up the opposition’s main man.
"But more than anything I looked on those as a confidence booster, that I was the one chosen to do it, trusted by the management to do it. It was a very enjoyable year, it was a joy to be part of the group."
With Liam Sheedy back once more for the 2020 campaign, Maher is optimistic about the future. "It is huge to have Liam back for next year, it’s great for the county," Maher remarks.
"He’s an inspirational man, his record speaks for itself and we are lucky to have him in Tipperary. After 2010 it came as a huge shock when he stepped down, so this time around it was good to be hearing the news you wanted and that he was staying on. It’s a real positive for us."