All-Ireland winning Tipperary captain Brendan Maher has admitted he was partly to blame for pushing his team-mates too hard last year.
Tipp have qualified for Sunday’s Allianz League final and are doing their best to avoid the pitfalls of 12 months ago when they came into the decider jaded and were soundly beaten.
Maher admitted they were so keen to avoid complacency at the time, and to ultimately hang onto the MacCarthy Cup, that they trained harder, but not necessarily smarter.
It led to burnout early in the year and Tipperary’s results plummeted for a period, starting with that league final loss to Galway.
They eventually recovered to run eventual All-Ireland winners Galway to within a point in the semi-finals.
But Maher said Tipp legend Brendan Cummins was bang on the money when he claimed that the players looked tired throughout the summer and as if they were on their way to work, not a hurling game.
“It’s no secret that I think we over-trained,” said Maher. “We actually did too much, if that makes sense. We were so conscious of not being complacent that we ended up over-training and just drained ourselves.
“I remember we had one period of 10 weeks before last year’s league final where we did not have one night off from the norm. We did our gym work on a Monday and Wednesday and trained on a Tuesday and Thursday, or a Tuesday and Friday. And we were just like dogs.
“And that wasn’t the manager’s fault. It was actually as a group of players we were conscious of it, always on to each other that we need to ‘Keep going, keep going’. And I suppose we just overreached a little bit.
“Then obviously the disappointment of the league final knocked us back and we found ourselves reaching further and trying to claw it back, that form and flow that we previously had.
“I think we ultimately grinded through it well, we ended up in an All-Ireland semi-final, were beaten by the puck of a ball. So we were still very close to getting back to the first Sunday in September.
“So although it didn’t go to plan, I’d be pleased with the way we reacted to the setback as well. You can look at it from a number of different ways. But from a player point of view, the approach we took, we definitely overdid it, put in too much and Brendan was right in what he said, we were just drained when it came to game day.”
Things bottomed out for Tipp after their Munster Championship defeat to Cork when All-Star defender Cathal Barrett was dropped for disciplinary reasons.
It played into the myth that Tipp players lose focus after All-Ireland wins, resulting in their failure to retain the MacCarthy Cup since the mid-1960s.
Maher said the real irony is that it was the Tipp players who opted to flog themselves last year in pursuit of even higher standards, though the ploy clearly backfired.
“We talked about it all the time, it was always in the back of our heads, ‘Train hard, don’t let any softness set in’,” said the 29-year-old. “That was constant, week on week, and it just shows you have to stay fresh, keep the hunger, and we just left too much of that on the training pitch.
“We do the 70-minutes sessions, not the 90. Even if we feel or ask for more, they say, ‘no’ that’s the length of the session’. It’s about getting that balance where you’re getting the work in but also staying fresh and eager for the game.
“That balance is the difficult thing to find, to put in the work, get that base level of fitness and build up that mental capacity to be able to perform for the 70-plus minutes. But then there is also that line you can cross into over-training.”
Sunday’s Nowlan Park clash with Kilkenny is a grudge clash with all the trimmings and will present an entirely different set of circumstances to last year’s Galway showdown.
Maher said the one thing that hasn’t changed is the appetite of the players and revealed his surprise that some people still attribute poor form or defeats to players drinking.
“It’s the easiest one because it’s the only one that people can figure out themselves, ‘Oh, they must have been drinking’,” said Maher. “How many times have we heard that? With any inter-county team, you wouldn’t be able to drink when you’re training, it’s not possible.
“But it is that excuse that always seems to pop up. There’s more important things like the way you’re playing and the things you’re actually doing on the pitch that are the reasons why you lose games.”
Former All-Ireland winning captain Maher said it’s no great surprise they’re facing Kilkenny in the league decider, despite the Cats’ experimentation this year.
“All that talk about the demise of Kilkenny, we never bought into it,” he said. “If you’ve played against them, you just know.”
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