Critics have steeled us for fight – Maher
Towards the end of March, Brendan Maher spoke about how he would find it “hard to believe” that a rumour mill as active as Tipperary’s exists in other counties.
As team captain, Maher was acutely aware of local criticism but his form since then has been exceptional.
Now deployed in a deep-lying centre-back-cum-sweeper role, the Borrisoleigh man has been one of Tipperary’s leading lights in successive victories over Dublin, Cork and Clare.
The show is back on the road and Maher senses an air of regeneration and renewed optimism coursing through the Premier County.
Evolution, too, as just six of the 2010 All-Ireland-winning team started in the league semi-final victory over Clare at the Gaelic Grounds.
“At the start of the year we had 16 new players on the panel,” Maher notes. “It’s great to have fresh, enthusiastic young fellas in around the place.”
After the Clare game, Tipp headed for Clonea on a training camp and each player that travelled had tasted competitive league fare.
It was certainly hairy at times but manager Eamon O’Shea found the right balance between accumulating league points and infusing new blood.
“Everyone feels they have a chance of getting a jersey, so it’s interesting times,” Maher adds. “It’s about seizing the day and I always give 100pc.
“It’s not always going to work out for you but if you strive for that excellence… at the end of my career I just want to be able to look back and say yeah, I gave everything I had.”
In seven league games, Tipp have scored freely, totting up 14-134. That equates to 176 points but with remarkable symmetry, Tipp have conceded exactly the same (18-122).
Defensively, Tipp remain a work in progress but Padraic Maher’s switch to full-back and the placing of Conor O’Mahony and James Barry either side of Maher has provided a fresh degree of solidity. And Maher believes that Tipp’s players, to an extent, have worked things out for themselves.
“The big thing is that they (management) leave it to ourselves, there’s a lot of responsibility left to the players on the field,” says the 25-year-old.
“We can adjust and adapt to whatever way it is, and they have given us the freedom to make calls if we need to make calls. They’re only there to facilitate us, to prepare us for the game and once you cross the white line it’s down to us.
“We were scoring enough in the games we lost, we were just conceding too much. We tried to tighten up and we looked at why we were conceding goals and tried to counteract that.”
The current situation in Limerick hasn’t escaped Maher’s attention, either.
Donal O’Grady’s exit as joint-manager will affect preparations ahead of the June 1 Munster SHC semi-final showdown with Tipp but it will have little impact on Maher’s psyche.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and we can’t control anything outside of that. That goes from public opinion to what’s happening in other counties.
“Obviously we can’t control the Donal O’Grady incident, so we just try and not pay any attention to it.
“The situation in Limerick could galvanise them, we’ll have to look at them and see what way they’re playing, adapt to it and impose our game on them.”
Before that, Tipp have the little matter of a league final against Kilkenny to look forward to. And Maher believes that it’s high time that Tipp laid down a ‘marker’ against the Cats.
“Kilkenny are the only team to have knocked us out of the championship since I started (senior) hurling in 2009, so that’s definitely something that you want to lay down a marker on.
“But it’s the same with every team, you want to beat every team.
“Kilkenny have had the upper hand on us so we want to go out and give a performance, and we’re confident enough that if we can get the performance we want it should go a long way to winning the game.”
Maher is confident that Tipp can continue along a steady line of progression, fuelled by the snipes from those within the county.
“The criticism we got hardened us up a bit, we got our fair share, perhaps more than anyone over the past couple of years.”