Pádraic Maher has fired the first shots ahead of next month’s All-Ireland hurling final by claiming Tipperary will not and have never feared Kilkenny.
The sides renew acquaintances on September 4 in what will be the fifth final meeting between the two counties since 2009 - Brian Cody’s side emerging victorious in all but one of those. Indeed, the Cats have enjoyed something of an Indian sign over their neighbours, having also marked Tipperary’s card in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, the second round of qualifiers in 2013 as well as the 2013 and ‘14 league finals.
The Tipperary defender, though, says there is no inferiority complex at play.
“We don’t ever fear Kilkenny, we never did,” Maher insisted. “We came up against them in 2009, ‘10, ‘11 & ‘12 when they were a top class team. People have been doubting them the last few years but they keep coming and coming. You saw them on Saturday night bringing in some new lads and still producing the goods.
“Kilkenny showed a tremendous effort to get through. That’s going to bring on Kilkenny a nice bit and hopefully, our game will bring us on as well. We needed that good game too and please God it will stand us in good stead for the final.
“We have struggled to get over the line the last couple of years against them. It’s up to us to turn the tables. We are under no illusions, we know each other inside out at this stage. We know we will have to work even harder than the semi-final and bring a performance with that.”
Mind you, their work-rate wasn’t half bad on Sunday. Take Maher’s vital interception to prevent a certain Conor Cooney goal approaching half-time as an example. A perfectly floated Joseph Cooney pass across the Tipperary danger area had picked out the unmarked Conor Cooney who was hooked by Maher just as he went to pull the trigger. Galway led 1-9 to 0-10 at that juncture and the concession of a second goal before the break would have asked serious questions of Michael Ryan’s men.
“It was everyone working hard and covering for one another. Thankfully, I got back just in time. There were 32 minutes on the clock at that stage and if that had gone in, it would have been a sucker punch before half-time.”
Not forgetting either that crunching shoulder - deemed legitimate by referee Barry Kelly - which sent Joe Canning tumbling out over the Hogan Stand sideline in the 23rd minute. Canning, with blood streaming from his forehead, was removed from the fray, as was Maher.
“It was a spur of the moment thing and thankfully we were both ok. The doctor said he had his work cut out to stitch it back up properly, he hadn’t a lot to work with there. That’s what you get with Galway, it’s a very physical game. They got various hits in on us as well. In fairness to Barry Kelly, he let the thing go on various occasions in the first-half. It was thoroughly enjoyable to play in and I presume it was impossible to watch as well.”
Spectacle aside, Maher exhumed massive relief at having come out on the right side of a one-point game. This Tipperary side have had enough Sundays where they’ve been beaten in the dip for the line.
“After what happened last year, we are just delighted to get out with a win, albeit with plenty of room for improvement. It was like a game of tennis for a while, but we just stayed working. Especially the second goal, the boys worked it really well and they are well capable of that. The boys up front, the likes of Bonner [Maher] and Dan [McCormack] showed unbelievable work-rate, winning vital frees at times and Seamus on the frees kept up ticking over when we weren’t going that well and that kept us in touch. We have lost a few tight games and it is great to come out the right side of it.
“The championship is really after hotting up in the last two or three weeks. We are absolutely delighted to make that step to the final.”
Team-mate Michael Breen was also keen to stress the importance of having shaded a closely run encounter.
“From the mental side of things, it will toughen us up a small bit. It was just back to basic hurling; in-your-face hurling. You had seconds on the ball and seconds to make a decision, so it will bring us on and give us confidence going into training on Tuesday night and we look forward to that.”
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