Captaining Tipperary means facing up to searching questions on and off the field. Brendan Maher has been doing that all year, and when you ask him if the Premier County’s record against Kilkenny is something he’s conscious of, he doesn’t back down at all.
“There’s no point saying it’s not a monkey on the back. It is. I’m just glad we have another opportunity now to play against them again, to have a crack at them.
“It’s two years since we played them in the championship and I’m just glad we’re back and have a chance to prove ourselves again against the best, and there’s no doubt Kilkenny have been the best - possibly of all time, but certainly of the last 10 years.
“It’s just great to play them because if you beat them now in an All-Ireland you know you’ve earned it, you deserve to be All-Ireland champions.”
Maher accepts the Kilkenny side they’ll face this weekend is considerably different to the team they tangled with going back to 2009 and 2010.
So are Tipperary, of course.
“There’s a difference between our team and the team that played in 2009 to 2012. 2014 was probably the start of two new teams for both counties - Kilkenny had a lot of retirements and so did we. The rivalry is as healthy as ever and we need to focus on this rather than the past, and to give everything we have to win this All-Ireland.”
Sifting through the different encounters, Maher comes up with a simple reason for Kilkenny’s supremacy: “In 2009 we performed well and a harsh decision against us changed the game, we had a player sent off . . . in 2011 they deserved to win, they just dominated the game.
“The other close ones, league finals and that, there’s nothing you could pick out - overall they’ve been a better team, they’ve performed better than us. It’s as simple as that. There’s no one thing and you can say, ‘that’s the reason we lost’. “
Is that a burden, coming up against a team that always finds a way to beat you?
“Well, when you say ‘always’, we have beaten them. We’ve played them in the league and beaten them in the league, but the championship matches, obviously - we know we can beat them.
“I’m not going out thinking, ‘we’ve never beaten Kilkenny, we haven’t a hope’. We have a massive belief in ourselves, we’re going to go out and give 100% for Tipperary.”
Part of that is preparing the younger players - those who haven’t experienced an All-Ireland senior final.
“We had a discussion the other night, just for any lads new to the panel, if they had any questions to throw them out. Before the semi-final in Croke Park - different setting, different noise, different pitch, lads would be talking about this and that.
“There are a lot of distractions you could fall into, tickets and banquets and what happens afterwards, but we’re just trying to get the message across our focus is training and the match. Everything else falls into place. They’re cool customers and we’ve tried to keep that focus the whole year, what we can control - our training, and focus on the game. As long as we can win this game, who cares what happens after?”
What’s happened beforehand is the addition of Conor Stakelum as a selector: a clubmate of Maher’s.
“It was nice, Conor’s such a personality, so positive - he was a great addition to the backroom team. I’d worked with him when he managed Borris and I have great time for him and for all the Stakelums. They’re huge proud Borris men - a lot of them living in Thurles - and proud Tipperary men.”
Tipp go out today with a tough semi-final test under their belt against Galway. Their captain texted Maher with encouragement, but added a frank evaluation of their chances.
“It’ll definitely replicate what’ll happen the next day - Tipp, Galway and Kilkenny play a similar game to each other, high work rate and high attacking play as well. For us to come out on top, it’s the best preparation we could have got, a tight physical game - but we need more.
“David Burke, the Galway captain, texted me and said the same - ‘congrats, wish ye all the best but that performance isn’t going to win ye an All-Ireland, drive the lads on’. I know him fairly well. Everyone acknowledges it was a great win but it wasn’t good enough to win an All- Ireland.”
Don’t miss the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast. Daithi Regan, Tadhg O’Connor, Eddie Keher, Eamonn Murphy and PM O’Sullivan join Peter McNamara to discuss the Kilkenny v Tipperary All-Ireland hurling final.
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