It’s almost a tradition to rival the lustre of Cork v Tipp; bemoaning the lost lustre of Cork v Tipp. But not in Pádraic Maher’s house.
“We really look forward to playing Cork. Looking at the tradition over the years. We are told at home as well about Tipp and Cork. If you don’t put in your all against Cork you’ll know all about it. We admire and respect them greatly.
“Tipp and Cork, first round of the Munster Championship, it’s great.”
Perhaps for the last time, in the current format, before round robin serves new momentum to the bemoaning.
“I love the traditional Munster Championship. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone. I suppose I’m more of a traditionalist. But we’ll let the GAA work out that.”
A bloodless nine-point canter for Tipp at a damp Semple last May gave birth to no new legends on top of Ring v Doyle or Corcoran v Fox or donkeys and derbies. For a signpost to next Sunday, Maher would rather point to Tipp’s league defeat in Páirc Ui Rinn, full-stop on a year-long unbeaten stretch.
“Last year Cork didn’t put in the performance against us in the first round that they would have liked. I’ve no doubt that will be changed this year.
“In the league, they should have bet us by more, I know it was only a point that day, but we were only chasing our tails, finishing up. It showed, if anything, that if they get a bit of a run on you they can destroy you.
“They are bringing great energy to it. It’s similar to when we were coming in ‘09 and 10, a bust of five or six younger players. It brings a new dimension to it.”
There’s fresh dimension to Maher’s life too. Career in the gardaí, appointed Michael Ryan’s lieutenant on the field.
“As captain, the only difference I find is having to do a small bit of media and stuff. I try and do what I’ve been doing. I don’t say too much anyway and hope my actions on the field do the talking.
“It’s challenging. Getting a routine for yourself. You’re being challenged when you come in hurling for Tipperary and you’re being challenged in the new career. Both take a lot of commitment but hopefully it will all work out. It’s about planning your days and your weeks.”
Based in Henry Street in Limerick, the beat must be colourful for a Tipp hurler with strong ‘brand recognition’.
“You do get it from the odd person. But you try to keep the head down. It’s fine. The people down there are very nice and the people there have been very supportive of me.”
The new skipper might have expected to spend his media engagements deflecting talk about the ‘back-to-back’. Instead, the league final mauling by Galway has changed the conversation to setbacks and wake-up calls. Any solace to being woke in April?
“I’d prefer not to get any wake-up calls and get the wins if you can at all. If you’re going to say a wake-up call, you’d rather get it in the league, I suppose, than the championship. But at the end of the day, it’s a national title and another one gone by the wayside for us.
“That was my fourth league final and I’ve lost them all now. It’s very disappointing. And it makes it twice as bad that we didn’t even put in any kind of a performance.
“Galway brought a very high intensity to the game. They were sharper than us. They bet us to every breaking ball, 50-50 ball, they bet us to every one of them. That can’t come as a surprise to us because over the last number of years Galway and ourselves have had very tight matches.
“You can’t brush it under the carpet either. You have to take your learnings from it. This is another challenge now against Cork and we’re concentrating on them now.”
An analysis of the All-Ireland winning season by the Tipperary Star put Maher well clear on top of the Premier possession pile - he played the ball 100 times in five matches.
There may be mileage then, this summer, in decommissioning Tipp’s launchpad. In the league final, the roaming Cathal Mannion wasn’t keen to stand up for an arm wrestle. Target on Maher’s back?
“Some people might target different areas of the field. That’s something you just have to take. If you’re targeting one or two of our players, it’s an opportunity for maybe another player to say ‘I can take this over’.
“There’s a lot of tactics involved now, depending on who you’re playing. The game is changing. You have to be prepared. You could be named at seven but you could end up at six or five, depending. It’s just the way the game goes, players could be running every direction. Or you might be marking a player that will stand and fight his ground with you.
“You have to be mentally able to adapt and show that versatility. A lot of our players are comfortable in lots of different positions and you have to be.”
You’d back Maher in any sort of arm wrestle. When Sportsfile reached for a picture to capture last summer for their annual Season of Sundays photo book, Maher’s formidable gunshow when dealing with the advancing Liam Blanchfield in the All-Ireland final perfectly encapsulated the physicality of the inter-county game.
He laughs off cover model potential but admits to working hard on being Tipp’s pillar of strength.
“Every year, there’s some team driving it (the physicality). The professionalism of it… you’re looking after yourself and trying to do a few extras at a certain time of year, different type of runs, or go into the local boxing club.
“You do enjoy going to the gym. You have to put in that extra bit of effort, try to find that something extra. If you keep doing the thing you’re always doing, someone is going to catch you eventually. You have to keep ahead of the pack.”
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