Maher: Cats will be the litmus test of Tipp’s character

Liam Sheedy didn’t want to talk about Kilkenny. Which was fair enough.

Maher: Cats will be the litmus test of Tipp’s character

Liam Sheedy didn’t want to talk about Kilkenny. Which was fair enough.

High in emotion after Sunday, he couldn’t even contemplate facing the old foe: “Ask me tomorrow or Tuesday,” he smiled.

Close to an hour later, though, and Brendan Maher could begin to look forward.

When people perceive a lack of bottle in Tipperary, it’s been in some of those battles against Kilkenny, which they offer as exhibit A.

There was no lack of inner belief, though, as Tipperary negotiated all the obstacles flung in front of them by Wexford, and by the referee, on Sunday.

But it’s Kilkenny who will ask most of their resolve.

“It’s a question that is thrown out there all the time,” said Maher about Tipperary’s character.

“It’s probably stemming from the games against Kilkenny, where we have lost tight games, but you can look at that in other ways; Kilkenny have been an unbelievable team over the last 10 years and we have been up there with them.

“We have had our few wins and they’ve had their dominance over every team, so we were sick of that being thrown around the place. We are not going to answer it here; it is out there (Croke Park) and we did a bit of it (versus Wexford), but there is another game to go.”

Maher had no preference who won the other semi-final. “You are just so focused on your own game; you are watching it, but not really thinking too much about it.

"I was asked, during the week, ‘who you would prefer to see win’?, but you just want to be there yourself, in the final. Every All-Ireland I have played in has been Tipp versus Kilkenny. It’s back here again and great to look forward to.”

Two wins and a draw from six final dates with Kilkenny is not a return Maher would boast about and yet Tipperary are early favourites to win the All-Ireland title on August 18.

Just as Tipperary beat a team Kilkenny lost to this summer, so, too, the Cats have seen off a side that beat Sheedy’s men by 12 points in the Munster final.

Kilkenny also had to combat adversity in their semi-final, but not to the extent of Tipperary.

“In the circumstances, it just came down to 14 men for the guts of half-an-hour,” said the 2016 All-Ireland winning captain.

“The belief and character was shown. We didn’t feel any panic on the pitch and that’s down to the hard work we have done since last November. There is only one way to build belief and that is through hard work and we have that done this year and it had to come out — and it did.

“They probably got a bit of a lift off the red card and had a couple of big scores. But we didn’t panic and we always felt we had a grasp of it and had a chance, despite going down to 14 men.

"We said we would stay going until the final whistle and not stop until we were told to stop.

“It (John McGrath’s sending-off) created a bit of space for our forwards, so they pushed forward one man and they lost two bodies in that half of the field.

"Maybe it worked a little in our favour, but when things like that happen, you do have to go to a place that is out of your comfort zone and just stick to the process of, ‘go ball for ball, moment by moment, and whatever happens, happens’.”

He also nodded to the work of strength-and-conditioning coach, Caibre Ó Caireallain: “Another thing that stood to us there is our fitness levels.

That has been questioned an awful lot, but a good few of the Wexford lads started to tire, going down with cramp, whereas none of our boys went down, and stayed going and, if anything, we got stronger in the last 15 minutes.

Brilliant himself in Tipperary’s Munster campaign, Maher marvelled at the performance of his namesake and fellow defender, Ronan, on Sunday.

“He was unbelievable. He has been unbelievable all year. The man is just a savage to train and always delivers on the big stage; no different to his older brother (Pádraic); the two of them were just colossal there. We need those lads there.”

The 30-year-old also paid tribute to the bench, with four of the substitutes each contributing a point, including Jake Morris, one of two U20s in the match-day panel.

“The big change (from 2016) is that we have our U20s on our bench. The core is still the same, but everything else is probably different. It’s just great to be in an All-Ireland final. We now have three weeks of the best training you could do.”

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