Obituary: Michael Maher

Celebrated Tipperary hurler who became accomplished GAA administrator

 

Michael (Mick) Maher who has died at the age of 87, will long be remembered as an uncompromising member of the famous Tipperary backline known as “Hell’s Kitchen”. Acknowledged as one of the best hurlers of any era, he won five senior All-Ireland medals in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a minor medal in 1947, six Munster titles, eight National League and three county championship medals.

Mourners attending his funeral learned there was far more to Maher than the great hurler most of them knew. Highlighting his many attributes, Con Hogan, a close friend and secretary of the GAA in Tipperary, said in a wide-ranging graveside oration at Holycross Abbey that after retiring from the game in 1966, Maher emerged as a brilliant committee chairman, an outstanding organiser and superb fundraiser. His fellow stalwarts in “Hell’s Kitchen”, John Doyle and Kieran Carey, are also buried at Holycross,

Deeply involved in the administration of the GAA at local, regional and national level, Maher was chairman of the Munster Council, played a pivotal role on the organisation’s central council and successfully steered fundraising committees through choppy waters in Clonmel and Thurles at a time when money was hard to come by for building a modern stadium. Putting his knowledge of agriculture to good effect, he also helped create the country’s best sod for hurling at Thurles.

A devoted family man, he was humble and totally unaffected by his celebrity status. Deeply religious, he was a daily mass-goer and neither smoked nor drank. Off the hurling pitch, he was quietly spoken but armed with a dry wit and a quick mind. Even at an advanced age one could still sense the rangy, broad-shouldered frame of someone not to be trifled with.

That was particularly true of his younger days when, hurley in hand, he was the most formidable of opponents. Summing up his old rival, the great Cork player Christy Ring said: “you could go through other full backs but you had to go around Maher”.

His respect for Maher was also seen when Ring briefed a Cork team about the Tipp players on the eve of a crucial game. When it came to the man wearing the number 3 jersey, he simply observed: “there’ll be no change out of Maher”.

It was a case of mutual respect because Maher regarded Ring as the best player he had encountered. He once recalled grabbing Ring’s hurley and throwing it into the sideline crowd, only to see Ring racing to the goalmouth and picking up the goalie’s second hurley. In a controversial incident, Ring broke his wrist when he fell after a jarring shoulder from Maher. The next day he sent him a get-well card in hospital, sparking a lasting friendship.

Born of farming stock at Holycross near Thurles, he was educated at the national school, then by the Christian Brothers followed by UCD where he won two Fitzgibbon cup medals and received a Master’s degree in Agricultural Science, going on to become the chief agricultural officer for North Tipperary. In his youth, Maher excelled at hurling and won three county finals with his local club Holycross-Ballycahill. His older brother, Francis, (92) who was at the funeral, captained that team.

In a five-man contest for the presidency of the GAA, Maher was favourite but failed in his bid when Jack Boothman became the first Protestant president. Not a man to canvas votes, he did not run again.

A stickler for punctuality, his daughter Edel recalled in her homily that every night he would switch on the 9 o’clock RTÉ news at exactly five minutes to nine, regardless of what was on the other channel. And when late arriving Kerry members of the Munster Council sought to raise an item, Maher pointed out that were they on time they could have engaged fully in the earlier discussion. They were never late again.

Michael Maher is survived by his widow, Margaret, their children Edel, Kevin, Claire and Emer, his brother, Francis, sister Nancy and 10 grandchildren.