Legendary Tipperary hurler Michael Maher, whose death has occurred, was the last surviving member of the fearsome full-back line famously known as ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, having been predeceased by Kieran Carey and John Doyle.
He annexed all of the game’s major honours — highlighted by his haul of five All-Irelands, his first coming in 1958 at the age of 28 — and also had a distinguished involvement at administrative level which ended in a failed bid for the presidency of the GAA in 1993.
Born into a farming family in Holycross in 1930, he was a nephew of Michael Maher of famed Tubberadora, who captained Tipperary to three All-Ireland wins and a cousin of ‘Sonny’ Maher, also a three-time medal winner.
He studied in Thurles CBS and UCD, from where he graduated with an honours degree in Agricultural Science, finishing his career as Chief Agricultural Officer in North Tipperary.
First coming to prominence as a minor, he won an All-Ireland medal as a substitute in 1947 and two Fitzgibbon Cup medals with UCD before making his senior debut in the National League campaign of 1951-’52 when he won the first of eight league medals, against New York in Croke Park.
His College wins were both against UCC and their goalkeeper was John O’Grady, who was between the posts for his first All-Ireland senior medal against Galway.
Having been on the losing side in the 1960 final against Wexford, he won four other medals in 1961, ‘62, 64 and ‘65.
The first of six provincial medals also came in 1958 and the same year he won the first of four Railway Cup medals, the others following in 1959, 1961 and 1963.
At club level, he won three county championship medals with Holycross-Ballycahill.
Tipperary hero Donie Nealon, recalling that Maher was an established member of the team before Nealon made the breakthrough, rated him as “being well up there with the greats”.
He said: “He was a very astute full-back, very dependable — he commanded that territory all the time. I never saw anybody really beating him in a game. His physical presence was very important. In his own quiet way, he was like the Rock of Cashel.
“I had huge admiration for Michael as a player, as a leader, and as a kind of counsellor towards the younger fellows on the team. Later I had the good fortune of working under him (as secretary) when he was an absolutely outstanding chairman of the Munster Council. And that was the opinion of all the counties, indicating the stature he was held in.”
Starting as a member of the county board in 1959, Maher became Central Council representative in 1966 and board chairman from 1979 to 1981. First elected as vice-chairman of the Munster Council, he was chairman from 1989 to 1991.
“He was a wonderful person to direct or control a meeting,” explained Nealon. “He would let people have their say, condense it and give his own opinion. Of course, we were all disappointed in Tipperary when he wasn’t elected president.”
He was one of five candidates who stood for election in 1993 and was strongly favoured (‘Maher the popular choice,’ proclaimed a headline in the Examiner
However, Jack Boothman was elected at his second attempt and Joe McDonagh caused a major surprise by coming second in the vote ahead of Maher.
“Michael would have been well deserving of the honour,” added Nealon. “But he was a quiet person in his own way — a kind of person who wouldn’t go looking for support.”
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