Iron-man Maher’s unbroken service to Tipperary hurling

Pádraic Maher pictured at the announcement that Littlewoods Ireland will renew its sponsorship of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues and the GAA Go Games Provincial Days for three years until 2022.
Pádraic Maher pictured at the announcement that Littlewoods Ireland will renew its sponsorship of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues and the GAA Go Games Provincial Days for three years until 2022.

Iron-man Maher’s unbroken service to Tipperary hurling


By John Harrington

Pádraic Maher has been the iron-man of the Tipperary defence throughout the county’s most successful hurling decade since the 1960s.

His ability to read the game, win ball high and low, tackle with bone-jarring intensity, and score with remarkable consistency have made him one of the greatest players of his generation.

Of all his many gifts, though, perhaps it is his sheer durability that is most impressive.

Since making his Championship debut in 2009, Maher has started every single one of the 54 Championship matches that Tipperary have played.

He was only substituted late on in three of those matches when the game was already decided and briefly blood-subbed in two others, meaning he has missed only around 25 minutes of hurling in 11 Championship seasons.

So, what does the man himself put his incredible robustness down to?

“I would say it’s 80 per cent luck,” said Maher today at the renewal of Littlewoods Ireland’s GAA and Camogie sponsorships until 2022.

“Injuries have a lot to do with it, you’d see lads picking up niggles here and there and it might curtail them for a game or two in the championship.

“I’ve been lucky enough that even if I have got a niggle I’ve been able to play through it. I think a lot of luck is in it, but, now, you do put in the effort. You do the recovery and do the stretching and everything to help the body as much as you can.

“Obviously when you’re getting older as well it does take longer to recover so you have to be smart about what you’re doing as well.

“Look, we’ve been getting the best…I though we were getting very good recovery and nutrition education for the last number of years, but that’s gone to another level again now.

“So you’re saying to yourself how high can this go? How far can you take it?

“I suppose a lot of it is luck, but hard work goes into it too on a personal level as well as what you’re doing with your team-mates. And there are occasions too where managers could have whipped me off once or twice but obviously stuck with me for some reason.”

Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny in action against Pádraic Maher of Tipperary during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. 
Liam Blanchfield of Kilkenny in action against Pádraic Maher of Tipperary during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. 

When spectators watch inter-county players in action they would rarely consider the possibility that the men below them on the pitch are in anything other than prime physical condition.

Maher has pushed his body through the pain barrier to hurl for Tipperary on plenty of occasions when he has been some way shy of 100 per cent physical fitness, but he doesn’t think that makes him remarkable.

“I think you’d go through that in any sport. I doubt there’s many people actually going out playing 100%. They’re always going to have a bit of knock or something.

“Especially in the hurling championship where you’re playing week-on-week, you might have a week off, then you’re playing week-on-week again. I don’t think you’re ever going to be playing at the full of your health.

“You’re always going to have a bit of a niggle here and there, maybe fatigue will kick in a bit quicker. It’s more mentally than anything that you have to power on through it.

“You do play with knocks and stuff but you have to play on through it. Obviously adrenalin is a big thing too. You’ll get over being slow on the Monday or Tuesday if you managed to get through it.”

Tipperary’s All-Ireland win over Kilkenny was Maher’s third time to win a coveted Celtic Cross and elevates him and peers like Seamus Callanan, Brendan Maher, and Noel McGrath onto a higher pedestal than most Tipperary hurlers have stood on.

Tipperary's Pádraic Maher celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup at their team homecoming in Semple Stadium following victory over Kilkenny in the 2019 All-Ireland SHC Final. 
Tipperary’s Pádraic Maher celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup at their team homecoming in Semple Stadium following victory over Kilkenny in the 2019 All-Ireland SHC Final. 

Declan Ryan also managed to win three All-Irelands (1989, 1991, and 2001), but you have to go back all the way to the 1960s to find any other Tipperary players who won three All-Ireland medals in the one decade.

“For a few years it looked like we were going to be stuck on one or something like that because we were coming up against great Kilkenny teams there as well,” said Maher.

“Yeah, to all of a sudden have three now, look, you’re saying, ‘janey’. We’re after enjoying this one as much as any of them.

“It’s great. Liam (Sheedy) makes the whole thing enjoyable. Going in training, the games. We had a few downs throughout the year as well and we were able to bounce back from them.

“Yeah, it is nice to have the three, like. It would be great to be able to add another one if we could too. Sure, we’ll see what happens.”

Maher is very aware that his group of peers in the Tipperary panel is shrinking every year, especially after the recent retirements of James Barry and Donagh Maher.

But rather than make him consider stepping away from the scene himself any time soon, it only motivates him to make the most of whatever time he has left.

“If anything, it makes you enjoy it and relish it even more because you know that you’re not going to be there for too much longer yourself,” he said.

“I suppose that makes it more enjoyable and makes you relish the challenge ahead more than anything. Because, you know, people have their own things going on in their own life that make them make these decisions.

“You can’t be looking too far ahead, you have to take it one step at a time for the likes of myself.

“I suppose the fact that we’ve been there for the last 10, 11, 12 years you see a lot of changing of the guard. You see lads coming and going and you lads developing.

“It’s up to three or four of us elder statesmen now to try to bring it on to another level again.”

Pádraic Maher charges out of the Tipperary defence in typically inspirational fashion during the 2019 All-Ireland SHC Final against Kilkenny. 
Pádraic Maher charges out of the Tipperary defence in typically inspirational fashion during the 2019 All-Ireland SHC Final against Kilkenny. 

He expects Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher to be one of the elder statesmen giving it their all once again in 2020.

The Lorrha man ruptured his cruciate ligament in the Munster Championship round-robin match against Limerick, but Maher is confident he’ll make a full recovery in time for next summer’s matches.

“I would 100% say yes. That man was cycling a watt bike at the side of the field during the summer when we were training away and he had no operation at that stage.

“I’d say he went into that operation in great nick, and doing what he’s doing since, I’d say he’s going to come back stronger than ever. He’s a very determined person, you can see that from the way he’s been playing the last 10 or 11 years.

“I’ve no doubt that he’ll come back as strong and as fit as ever. It’d be great for us if we do get him back the way he was because he was having a fantastic year in the early rounds of the Munster championship.

“It’d be great to have him back, it’d be like a new player on the panel again.”

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