TIPPERARY has been engulfed in a giddy and happy atmosphere all week but by Tuesday night it was time for Padraic Maher and seven of his senior colleagues to take a step back from the celebrations.
The business of preparing for an All-Ireland U21 decider needed to be taken care of as the focus quickly shifted to securing another national hurling crown for the county.
“Things have been a bit hectic but it’s great times at the moment,” says Maher. “We’re so lucky as the U21’s to be involved in both camps. You’d take one of them with both hands at any other time, so we’re just really lucky to be involved in two in the space of a week. You put your celebrations on hold for one week and concentrate on trying to win. We went training on Tuesday night with Tommy Dunne putting us through our paces. We were brought back down to earth fairly quickly and there was a bit of fine tuning done. It was nice to get away from everything. The whole place is going mad, all around us is a big circus. But you try to stay away from that for the U21s and start concentrating.”
Maher’s role tomorrow will be manning the edge of the square as captain at full-back as he moves from his regular centre-back berth. The switch is as a result of a suspension to regular no 3 John Coghlan and Maher has sympathy for his unfortunate colleague.
“You would be disappointed for him. John has been training hard with Tipperary senior and U21 footballers, and the U21 hurlers since last December. To be missing out now an opportunity like this, I’d feel sorry for him. But we just all have to step up to the mark now.”
It’s been a summer of wildly oscillating fortunes for Maher. He began in Páirc Ui Chaoimh in May as last year’s All star senior full-back but suffered a torrid time at the hands of Aisake O hAilpín. A torrent of criticism rained down upon the Tipperary camp after that yet Maher displayed his strong resolve to press on and he flourished in the half-back line as the season unfolded.
“It’s amazing what a few months does you know. We just didn’t turn up on that day and the ball Aisake was getting in was top class, making him very hard to handle. Things do go through your mind, but you just take the experience and put it to the back of your mind. You have your bad days but we turned into a few good days. I didn’t mind where I was playing but I do prefer the half-back line. The three boys over us and Cian O’Neill were magnificent over the year, and we just all knuckled down.”
At a local level in Thurles Sarsfields the effects of the senior victory are easy for Maher to witness. Michael Cahill broke into the starting defence this year, Lar Corbett carried off the man-of-the-match award last Sunday and Pa Bourke was a valuable panel member this season. Tonight Maher and Cahill are amongst the U21 ranks along with clubmates Kevin O’Gorman, Bill McCormack and Denis Maher. The game marks Maher’s last intercounty appearance at U21 level and he is determined to seize an accolade that has eluded him over the past three years.
“I was delighted for the Thurles boys last Sunday. Larry gave another top-class display, and it was great for the club to have Cahill and Pa there as well. There’s five of us involved Saturday in the U21, so it’s exciting times for our club. Only for Thurles Sars, we wouldn’t be there at the moment and we owe them a lot.
“We’re just looking forward to playing Galway now. In 2008, my first year at U21, we lost to Kilkenny in the final with a very young team and then last year we got a good beating from Waterford in Munster. We’ve improved game by game this year and we’re ready for another hard match.”
Picture: Ger Cunningham, Sports Sponsorship Manager, Bord Gais Energy, with team captains Padraic Maher, Tipperary, left, and David Burke, Galway, ahead of this weekend’s Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling U-21 All-Ireland final (SPORTSFILE).
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