All Ireland Minor Hurling Final: Offaly v Tipperary. 1.30pm. Live on TG4
Pádraic Maher was at a Thurles Sarsfields club game the evening that Offaly beat Clare next door in Semple Stadium to reach the Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Final.
The six-time All-Star reckoned there must have been 40,000 Offaly supporters across the wall given the noise they were making.
“All I could hear was people chanting ‘Uibh Fhaili, Uibh Fhaili’,” said Maher. “I was thinking, ‘Jeez, Offaly must be scoring goals here to beat the band’. I went home and watched it on TV and it was actually just them shouting and celebrating each time they won a free or a tackle! The atmosphere within Offaly at the moment is unreal and they’re bringing a great energy to it.”
Maher, a Minor medal winner in 2006 and 2007, tells the tale to let Tipp supporters know what’s coming when the Premier face Offaly in the All-Ireland decider.
It’ll be Offaly’s first final at the grade since 1989, when they last won it, and they are expected to travel in large numbers for the showpiece which is a 27,000 sellout at Kilkenny’s UPMC Nowlan Park.
“Offaly are on the crest of a wave at the moment and are going to bring massive numbers to Kilkenny so we’re trying to drum up as much support as we can in Tipp to match that,” said Maher.
Thankfully for Tipp, they’ve got an equally special bunch of Minors who appear to have similarly captured the attention of their supporters.
James Woodlock’s crew beat Clare in the Electric Ireland GAA Munster Minor Hurling Final after a penalty shoot-out and then came from behind in stoppage time to beat Galway last time out.
Just the tonic then for Tipp supporters after a relatively unsuccessful year for the senior and U-20 teams.
“We’re crying out in Tipp at the moment for a bit of success at some level,” said Maher. “From what I’ve seen so far, these Minors have been a fantastic group and won a cracking Munster final. They had a great win in that one and then got over a fancied Galway team in another good game.
“From a Tipperary point of view, we’d be very excited about these lads. I would have witnessed them first hand because they were doing a lot of the strength and conditioning work in my own club of Thurles Sarsfields throughout the winter. I’ve seen the massive effort they’ve put in.”
Recently retired Maher went head to head with a young Joe Canning in the 2006 Minor final, picking up the first of back-to-back medals.
Those Tipp teams produced players like Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Patrick “Bonner” Maher and Séamus Callanan who backboned future All-Ireland winning senior teams.
Maher reckons many of the current Minors can go on to enjoy strong senior careers too.
“Obviously the first name that comes to mind is Tom Delaney,” said the three-time All-Ireland senior medallist. “He has been outstanding throughout the Munster campaign and even the last day as well.
“But the entire panel is strong and it’s been used, especially in the Munster final. They used a lot of their panel that day with all the subs that came on and it made a massive difference in extra-time.”
Maher enjoyed the experience of featuring in a Minor final at Croke Park as a teenager himself but believes the decision to stage this one in Kilkenny is the correct one.
“By all accounts it’s going to be nearly sold out so you can imagine the atmosphere, it’ll be outstanding,” he said. “There’s going to be 27,000 people all there to support the minor final. It’ll be a really special occasion for all of those Minors.”