Paul Maher is easily picked out among the Tipperary footballers sitting in the conference room of Thurles’ Anner Hotel.
Having travelled straight from school, the 18-year old has not had time to change out of his uniform and chats among team-mates in grey pants, a white shirt and black jumper donning the Clonmel High School crest.
When requested for a chat, the Leaving Cert student is slightly hesitant before brother Bill beckons him out the door. Easily known who is the older of the pair, easily known which Maher is preparing for a first All-Ireland final.
A 15-year old Paul Maher looked on from the Hogan Stand in 2011 as his brother enjoyed All-Ireland glory. Far from envious, he simply wondered if he would ever perform on such a stage. All-Ireland football finals are scarce enough by Tipperary standards. Silverware, even at provincial level, proved elusive during the minor campaigns of 2013 and ’14, but the determination never waned.
A couple of decent Hastings Cup showings earlier this year and the number 15 shirt was his. Mind you, he’s responded in kind – on the mark in each of Tipperary’s three championship outings to date.
So, how’s he finding pulling on the Tipp jersey alongside the big brother? Does he receive much encouragement from the wing-back or is it a case that if a mistake is made the first voice he’ll hear is an all too familiar one.
“We are far away from each on the field so there wouldn’t be much communication,” “It did help to have a familiar face when coming into the set-up. Last year, we lost the Munster semi-final to Kerry at minor level. It was much the same the year previous, losing to both Kerry and Monaghan.
“I really wanted to push onto the U21 set-up because I knew the talent was there. I knew after 2011 we’d get back here again.”
The pair’s father, Ollie, donned the blue and gold in the late seventies, but like several Tipperary footballers that went before him, and, indeed, came after, his tales are of near-misses and hard luck stories.
Rather than Bill chastising Paul on the field, the Maher siblings assert it is their old man who keeps a watching brief.
“He, along with mam, loves to talk about Tipperary football, how training went and how such and such a challenge went,” says Paul. “Every time we’d be at the table together, they’d be bringing it up. Keeping them quiet is the big problem.”
Added second-year UL student Bill: “We have four sisters so they’re quick to deflect the conversation away from football and bring us back down to earth. Paul and I wouldn’t really discuss football around the house or coming and going from training. We might say something in passing, but there’d be no in-depth conversation. There is enough of that at training, you don’t want to be bringing it home as well. In the dressing room we wish each other luck. That’s it. I am not going to tell him how to play his game. It is each man for themselves. When you hit the white line you just have to trust he will do the right thing. He’s done well now so far.”
21-year old Bill was part of the unsuccessful U21 teams of recent years; faced with a third successive Munster final defeat when Cork’s Peter Kelleher rattled the net either side of half-time last month.
“Thankfully that didn’t come to pass and here we are discussing an All-Ireland final. We were faced with a similar situation against Dublin, but we were actually happy enough at half-time in that game because Dublin had played with a strong wind. I knew if we kept up the work-rate we could take them. Credit to Dublin they came back near the end when it would have been easier to die off. Lads like Steven [O’Brien] stepped up. Colin gave a great ball to Steven to win the match. We always felt it was in us to beat them.”
Remarked Paul: “You didn’t see too many Tipperary teams in the past beating Cork and Dublin in the one season. It is huge for everyone to see this happen. It gives us great confidence going into the final against Tyrone.”
Until then, he has the small matter of the Leaving Cert to contend with. “I am mad busy at present. My German oral was last Tuesday week and I had my Irish oral in the week leading up to the Dublin game. It is a tough balancing act. After training tonight, I will head back to the house to start homework. It keeps me busy, it keeps me occupied and away from the kitchen table.”
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