Tipperary captain Brendan Maher has claimed his team are the most criticised side in hurling.
Their opponents on Sunday, Galway, came in for sharp disapproval following their Leinster final defeat to Kilkenny. They answered plenty of their knockers in beating Clare although Maher could empathise with their predicament following their last outing in Croke Park.
Having lost two All-Ireland finals and two semi-finals since their last Liam MacCarthy Cup success in 2010, the 27-year-old believes they have Galway beaten on one unfortunate count.
“We have probably been the most criticised team in hurling over the past number of years. Galway have obviously got their fair share of criticism this year and you would feel sorry for them as players.
“There is all this talk of player power and all that, but I know, as an inter-county hurler and I have no doubt the Galway boys are no different, that all you want to do is go out and play. There are no hidden agendas, all you want to do is go out and do yourself proud. You want to play and represent your county.
“I would definitely have empathised with them. I think a lot of it is unfair. I don’t know what has gone on up there. I don’t know the situation so I won’t comment on that but definitely we have got our fair share of criticism so you would understand what they are going through.”
Maher makes no secret of the fact Tipperary played with anxiety in the recent past.
“Lads would openly say that there was an element of hurling with fear for a couple of years because there was so much pressure but I think we are dealing with it a lot better now. We have matured as people. We are still young but have matured a little bit more and we have learned to deal with the pressure that comes with playing for Tipp.”
Using himself as an example, he explains how he has developed himself this last while. “The way I am now, I suppose I have said in the past when I am finished hurling I want to have no regrets and I want to be able to look back on my career and say I gave it my all; that I represented myself with dignity; that I did my family and my friends proud. You think about that every time you go out on the pitch. A lot of stuff can bog you down but I have probably got rid of that baggage.
“There is a little bit more of a sense that I am happier in my own skin. I know what’s important, what makes me tick and I know what I want to get out of my career. And I know what I want to get out of it as a Tipperary hurler. I just want to make my family and friends proud – because it means an awful lot to them, it means an awful lot to me. In the wider sense then you want to do Tipperary proud.”
Learning not so much as coping from loss is what he tries to do now. Last year’s semi-final reverse against Galway stung him quite like no other non-final defeat.
“It’s probably hard to describe. Last year’s semi-final defeat was, I suppose, one of the toughest I have had in my career but then in saying that I remember crying for days after the 2009 All-Ireland, 2011 defeat and in 2014 I suppose being captain there was a little bit more on the line for myself.
“To be honest, speaking for myself, I have tried to learn from those defeats and try to be a bit more free about the whole thing. I think sometimes thinking back on those can catch you a little bit in what you are doing at present.
“You acknowledge it and the stuff is in the back of your mind, but it remains in the back of your mind and it never corrupts your thoughts. You might have something written down to remind you as a gentle reminder but we really are just focusing on what we can do now and what we can do today to make ourselves better.”
Alongside Michael Breen, Maher has formed quite a formidable midfield partnership and it’s not as if Breen is bringing all the physical power to the middle third. Against Limerick, Maher put James Ryan out of the game with a crunching shoulder. In the Munster final, he dumped Kevin Moran over the line with another fair dunt.
Maher is amazed at the benefits the young players like Breen have reaped from experiencing weights from their early to mid-adolescent years and now the rest of the panel are seeing their own gains.
“We have the same strength and conditioning coach (Lukasz Kirszenstein), this is his fourth year with us. And, he had said to us coming in that it was going to take him a couple of years to get us to where he wanted us. So, really last year and this year lads are lifting a lot heavier and lads are a lot stronger and a lot more powerful.
“It’s not necessarily that there was a lot more emphasis on it this year, it was, literally, just that the progression and the development as athletes has just happened.”
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