Premier hero Pádraic Maher relishing another Kilkenny test

Inspirational Tipperary defender sees the league final clash against the Cats as ideal preparation for the championship

Tipperary’s Padraic Maher in action against Dublin’s John McCaffrey during the National League clash at Thurles. “Kilkenny are the only team to knock us out of championship hurling since I started playing with Tipp.” Photograph: Inpho

Tipperary’s Padraic Maher in action against Dublin’s John McCaffrey during the National League clash at Thurles. “Kilkenny are the only team to knock us out of championship hurling since I started playing with Tipp.” Photograph: Inpho

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:00

“He slipped. People say it is a mistake. But the man slipped. It is very harsh,” Pádraic Maher says of Steven Gerrard’s spectacularly unfortunate fall on the Anfield grass against Chelsea last Sunday.

This was on a perfectly sunny April day across Ireland so the coffee shop in which we met was empty and the back pages of the courtesy newspapers chronicled the adventures of some of the best-paid athletes on the planet.

Maher is a keen follower of soccer and although he is wedded to the less glamorous consolations of following Leeds United though a blighted period, he is fascinated by the galloping close to the Premier league season: the twists, the daft money and the casual cruelty with which managers are hired and fired.

“It has gone a bit ridiculous. If the results aren’t coming, a manager can be gone after six weeks. I felt Moyes was harshly done by because when giving him that contract, they made it seem like he was going to get time to build a squad. And Gerrard . . . I’d be very disappointed for him because he has been outstanding for the last 10 years. And I’d love to see him win one medal anyhow. People are saying that he made this huge mistake. But it is not as if he gave a bad pass or just gave the ball way. If he slipped, it wasn’t really a mistake.”

If nothing else, Sky’s winter soap opera offers Maher a bit of light relief from the highly scrutinised world of Tipperary hurling. Tipp have already been through the spring torrents, from a flying start in pre-season to a seemingly doom-laden league campaign in which they staved off relegation and then got their act together to the extent that they are in the Allianz Hurling League final for the second year running.

Kilkenny, the holders, are ready and waiting. As usual.

Maher doesn’t try to disguise the fact he is delighted that the team are back in the final and that is the Cats who stand between them and what would be a first league medal for him.

The easy assumption that Kilkenny would quietly slip from relevance after Tipperary halted their five-in-a-row bid in that thunderous All-Ireland final of 2010 has long been disproven. At 25, Pádraic Maher knows he can no more escape Kilkenny than he can his own conscience.

“They are the only team to knock us out of championship hurling since I started playing with Tipp,” he nods.

“They either finished us or were the final team we played in the championship. It is daunting. But you relish playing them. As a hurling person, you have to admire what they have done and they keep coming back, year after year.”

Tomorrow’s final in Thurles will be Maher’s third spring showdown against Kilkenny.

He was just three games into his senior career when he was tasked with shadowing Henry Shefflin in the 2009 final; that the Cats won was the only low note of what he considers to be a key hour of his hurling life.

“Of all the games, and including the All-Irelands we won, that was one of my favourite days hurling with Tipperary so far. Not alone was it my first final with Tipperary but to play Kilkenny in Thurles in such a thriller of a game, I will never forget it. It was a pity that the result didn’t work out but it will stay in my mind for a long, long time. Obviously, Henry Shefflin is one of the best who ever played the game and to mark him made it a bit more special for me. I suppose I didn’t expect that to happen to me so quickly.”

Rich passage
For Tipperary hurling people, Maher’s startling accomplished play that day confirmed the excitement that had trailed him as he enjoyed a prodigiously rich passage of teenage success, which in summary comprised of a club debut at 17 and two All-Ireland minor titles before he made his senior debut at 19 and quickly won U-21, senior and All-Star honours.

He seemed to capture two eras: definitively one of the new wave of Tipperary hurlers coming through with a modish hair cut and the brimming confidence that comes with intense early accomplishment but also a throw-back to a disappeared vintage of defenders in his bearing and command, even in the way he held the hurl.

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