Maher and Thurles firmly focused on unfinished business
GAELIC GAMES: For most of his hurling life, Pádraic Maher has only felt the escalator rising under his feet. The Tipp minor teams on which he won back-to-back All-Irelands in 2006 and 2007 were the first successful teams from the county at that level in a decade.
A generation of Tipp players had come and gone since their last senior All-Ireland but he picked one up in only his second year. Thurles Sarsfields had collected just a single county title in 35 years before he made the senior team but since he’s become a fixture, they’ve rattled off three out of the last four.
It’s the sort of career where the toast always lands buttered-side-up. Or at least it was until this summer’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. The tarring and feathering was one thing, the stink that clung to him in the aftermath something else. As the game got away from Tipp, Maher grew more and more bitter and got loose with his hurl. He says himself that if the game had been closer, his swing on TJ Reid would and should have got him the line. But it was a strike that wasn’t seen at the time, the one on Michael Rice, that lingered against his name. Unfairly so, in his eyes.
“To be honest, I didn’t know anything really happened for a week or two after it. I didn’t watch the match back for obvious reasons. And so I didn’t really know what had happened until I watched it back. I saw a few things about myself in the papers and I was thinking: ‘well, I better look at the incident just so I know what people are talking about’. I knew myself that it was a genuine accident and that there was nothing malicious in it and when I saw it back I knew I’d done nothing wrong.”
Never is the need to melt quietly back into society greater than after a defeat of the magnitude that Tipp endured. But the combination of rattle and hum over his clubmate Lar Corbett’s performance and the damage done to Rice’s hand meant Maher couldn’t quite locate a rock to crawl under. The annual retreat to the club was more welcome this year than ever.
“Some of the stuff that was written and that people were saying was tough to take because it was a perfectly normal challenge on my account. It was a 50-50 challenge and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but people were giving out and saying this and that about me. I just wanted to get on with hurling for Sarsfields.