Maher to meet old friend Boland in unlikely twist of fate

It is said coaching is the next best thing to playing but William Maher had little choice in the matter.

Dreams of a long and distinguished hurling career with Tipperary were destroyed in February 2002 when Maher’s left eye socket was smashed in a freak training ground accident at UCD.

But rather than dwelling on his misfortune, Ballingarry native Maher took his life in new directions.

It was while studying for a Higher Diploma in education at UCD when Maher sustained his serious injury and he soon decided that secondary school teaching wasn’t for him.

Maher rang former Tipperary captain and current Dublin selector Richie Stakelum and found out that he was a sales manager with pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb.

Maher found employment there before moving on to Amgen, a leading biotechnology company, with whom he remains to this day.

He’s married to Linda (nee Caulfield), the former Ireland ladies hockey international team captain who retired with 151 caps.

There’s a baby on the way and Maher is preparing the Tipperary minors for Sunday’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor hurling final against Dublin at Croke Park, just like he promised.

Maher smiles: "It’s wicked exciting. It’s where you want to be, it’s where young fellas want to be. They want to be going to Croke Park and that’s what I said to them in January in Cashel.

"I said ‘you want to be on this bus because this bus is going to Croke Park.’ We are there now."

Croke Park on All-Ireland final day isn’t uncharted territory for Maher, either. In 1996, he captained Tipperary to All-Ireland MHC final glory from midfield and victory on Sunday would see him join a select band of men who have won All-Ireland medals both as a player and manager. And with more wisdom than most, he can stress the importance of grabbing the chance that presents itself.

He says: "Everything in life is about the now. It’s not about looking back, it is very much about looking forward. These young lads in Tipperary are in a very fortunate position to be playing in an All Ireland minor final. I think they all realise that, they come from a huge spread of clubs and there are different types of guys from different areas in Tipperary. They realise where they are, it’s a fantastic opportunity but the mantra we have been trying to drill into them all year is to focus on the next game."

Shay Boland will occupy the opposition dugout as Dublin boss but his fondness for Maher is obvious. In 2008, a mutual friend and former St. Kieran’s College schoolmate of Maher’s suggested to Boland that he should consider the Tipperary man as part of Dublin’s backroom team.

And Boland recalls: "I duly met Willie, he got involved, he was fantastic and we got on very well. We didn’t have much luck that year but here we are four years later!"

And Boland has been impressed with Maher’s progression in the coaching stakes since. Maher, a brother-in-law of Eoin Kelly, was a member of Ken Hogan’s backroom team in 2010 when Tipp won the All-Ireland U21 title before taking over from Raymie Ryan as minor team manager after the 2011 campaign.

"Willie’s a great man-manager, has a great hurling brain and a great personality. He has everything you need in somebody looking after a team. He’s well organised and knows what he wants to do. He’s done a great job with these lads too," praised Boland.