Fr Tommy Maher, who died on Tuesday evening, has been described as a "legendary figure in Kilkenny and in hurling generally" by Kilkenny County Board chairman Ned Quinn.
Maher, who was 92, coached Kilkenny to 12 All-Ireland senior hurling finals winning seven (1957, 1963, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1975).
“It might be hard for young people nowadays in Kilkenny to believe,” said Quinn yesterday, “But when Paddy Grace invited Fr Tommy Maher to take charge of Kilkenny the county had won a single All-Ireland in the previous 16 years, in 1947.
“No-one could have predicted that he’d help them to win seven of the twelve finals they played in while he was in charge.”
Quinn stressed Maher’s interest in coaching: “He was a legend in Kilkenny, obviously, and in hurling generally, not just because of his intercounty success but because he was involved in putting on those first hurling coaching courses in Gormanston in the seventies.
“He, Donie Nealon, John Hanley and Ned Power organised those courses, which were the precursors to the present coaching systems in the GAA, but his interest in coaching went back even further than that.
“When he got involved with teams he realised that there could be a more scientific way to approach the game of hurling, that you could be cuter or cleverer and focus on the skills of the game and getting those right.
“He and Donie Nealon were very friendly, and they both felt that you could maybe take some of the brawn out of the game if you could.”
Quinn pointed out that Maher had enjoyed success at other levels of the game also: “When he got involved with St Kieran’s College he helped to get them back to the top in colleges.
“In the eighties he was made a parish priest in Mullinavat, and he coached them to a first junior county title in over forty years in 1984. I suppose there was a certain symmetry to the way things happened on Wednesday in that Henry (Shefflin) retired, and then Fr Maher passed away. At least we have Enda’s book about his life and career, which will keep his memory fresh.
“It’s interesting to see how many of the coaches and managers Kilkenny have had in recent years were players under Fr Maher — Pat Henderson, Nickey Brennan and of course the current boss, Brian Cody.”
The book referred to, The Godfather of Modern Hurling: The Fr Tommy Maher Story was written by Enda McEvoy, hurling columnist with the Irish Examiner.
The arrangements for Fr Maher’s funeral are: reposing at St. Beacon’s Church, Mullinavat today from 4pm with funeral prayers at 8pm.
Requiem Mass tomorrow at 12 noon. Burial after in the adjoining cemetery. No flowers.
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