Pádraic Maher: ‘We’re the ones on the field’
Thursday, May 29, 2014
It’s not so long ago since the knives were out in Tipperary. Successive league defeats to Kilkenny, Clare and Galway left the Premier County teetering on the brink of an unpalatable relegation from the top tier of hurling just two short months ago.
Their encounter with Dublin on Sunday, March 23 will perhaps not quite pass into legend, but it had something of the mythical about it all the same. They needed to win by at least three points in Semple Stadium to avoid the relegation play-off, and when Dublin’s Niall McMorrow was unmarked in possession on the 45m line with time almost up, things looked quite bleak.
He dropped his effort short however, Tipperary secured the decisive three-point win, and their ship dramatically changed course; the iceberg had been averted.
“You know there was a lot of stuff said, especially after those middle three league games,” said Tipperary defender Pádraic Maher recently.
“We weren’t playing that well but you put it to the back of your mind. We are around long enough at this stage and have heard enough whether it’s positive or negative to (know to) put it to the back of the mind.”
It’s too early in the year to say that game changed Tipperary’s season, but at this point, it looks like that. From being listless and predictable in the three defeats, they suddenly started winning games. They beat the two 2013 All-Ireland finalists Cork and Clare in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively, and were very impressive in both games.
In the end, it was their old foes Kilkenny that denied them a first league title since 2008, winning a gripping game in Thurles that went to extra-time. “Look, we had a decent performance,” says Maher of that narrow defeat. “Plenty of positives to take out of the game and plenty of stuff to improve on as well so we are happy enough we are going well into the championship.”
Tipperary begin their Munster Hurling Championship campaign this weekend when they take on Limerick in Semple Stadium at 4pm on Sunday. It’s the third year in a row that the two sides have met in the Munster opener, and Maher is relishing the renascent rivalry.
“Last year Limerick were the better team and we have no qualms about that, we were poor on the day and I think everyone was chasing the game,” says Maher of the 1-18 to 1-15 defeat his side side suffered at the hands of the Treaty County this time last year.
“Hopefully we can turn it around in Thurles this year. Limerick are coming in as Munster champions so we know what we are playing against. We are starting up a little rivalry with Limerick now the last couple of years so it’s great.
“The way the championship is now you can’t look beyond the Limerick game and all our focus has been on the Limerick game most of the year so hopefully we can back all that up now.”
Full-back duties have been divided up in Tipperary this season, with Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Paddy Stapleton and Thomas Stapleton all wearing the number three jersey at different stages of the league. Paul Curran missed out on the league after undergoing hip surgery, but he is close to a return to fitness, and is in contention to return to the Tipperary side this summer.
As well as that, newcomers to the Tipperary defence such as Cathal Barrett and James Barry have given Eamonn O’Shea a wealth of options in defence ahead of the championship.
“The way things have gone inside now, it’s plain to see wherever you are getting a starting jersey you are happy enough to take it,” says Maher, who turned 25 in February and is gearing up for his sixth year of senior championship hurling.
“Eamonn gave a lot of new guys chances this year, be it through injury or whatever, form. They have started to take it. The likes of Cathal Barrett, James Barry. It’s enjoyable there at the moment, you go and try and give it your all.”
Another man hoping to be in contention for Tipperary this summer is Maher’s Thurles Sarsfields teammate Lar Corbett. The three-time All Star is now 33, and he had an injury disrupted season in 2013. A complicated knee injury kept him out of Tipperary’s league campaign this year too, but he has returned to club action recently and could well feature against Limerick.
“He came on there in a club game for Sarsfields, 10 or 15 minutes, I don’t know what it was,” said Maher of Corbett. “Slowly but surely he will work his way back in, I’m sure he doesn’t want to rush it as with the knee a small thing could go against him again. It’s great to have him back in around the place, he has plenty of experience and is a class player as well.
“Now hopefully we will need everybody come summer but it is great to have him back. No doubt about it.”
Maher is clearly positive about Tipperary’s summer prospects, and much of his optimism centres on his manager O’Shea. He says the boss was a very calming and influential figure during Tipperary’s spring travails, and he places much of the credit for his team’s revival squarely on the shoulders of the economics professor.
“He’s a brilliant manager,” says Maher. “He’s a great man-manager. He’ll talk to each player individually. He’s very good at getting his point across. He makes it so easy to play for him and to train with him. He’ll tell you straight up if you’re not doing it right or not doing it as good as you should be doing it, but that’s what being a manager is all about.
“He’s been fantastic for us since he came back. Unfortunately we couldn’t get results for him last year but hopefully we can turn it around this year and use the hurt. I have to say he’s magnificent. When the opportunity came for a manager to come in last year we were delighted to get Eamonn back in.
“That’s who we really wanted and hopefully we can get him a bit of success this year and make it all the more enjoyable for him.”
He says O’Shea very much leaves the players in charge of their own destiny on the field, especially when things need to be changed.
“It’s one thing he has changed this year I suppose,” Maher expains. “If there is a decision to be made during the game or if something needs to be changed then it’s over to us. We’re the ones on the field, we’re the ones on the field.
“We can see best what way to turn it and Eamonn gave us that bit of freedom. It comes back to the freedom of playing the game as well and it makes it all the easier. He is not going to give out to us if we make a decision and it doesn’t turn out to be right. He has given us the freedom to do that and hopefully that will make us better players and a better team come championship.”
Tipperary v Limerick, Semple Stadium, Sunday, June 1, 4pm – Live on RTÉ