Brendan Maher says over-training left Tipperary drained
‘It’s about getting that balance where you’re getting the work in but also staying fresh'
Tipperary’s Brendan Maher and Cillian Buckley of Kilkenny ahead of the Allianz League Division 1 hurling final which takes place at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, on Sunday. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Maher heard some of the criticism after last year’s 16-point league final defeat to Galway and thought “oh no”. Tipperary weren’t training hard enough...had gone soft after winning the All-Ireland...were probably drinking too much.
As one of Tipperary’s senior players and their 2016 All-Ireland-winning captain Maher wasn’t just hurt by that, but knew the opposite was true: a year on, and back in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling Final league final against Kilkenny, the lesson still sticks, and so does his warning to other players.
“I still think we were so conscious of not being complacent, with all the talk of back-to-back All-Irelands, we ended up over-training, just drained ourselves,” says Maher.
“I remember we had a period of 10 weeks before last year’s league final where we did not have one night off from the norm. We did our gym work on a Monday and Wednesday, and we trained on a Tuesday and Thursday, or a Tuesday and Friday. And we were just like dogs.
“That wasn’t the manager’s fault. As a group of players we were always on to each other – we need to keep going, keep going. The disappointment of the league final then knocked us back, and we found ourselves trying to claw it back, that form and flow. I think we grinded through it well, ended up in an All-Ireland semi-final, beaten by a puck of a ball.
“But it is always in the back of our heads, train hard, not to let any softness set it. That was constant, week on week, and it just shows you have to stay fresh, keep the hunger. And we just left too much of that on the training pitch.”
Fun had gone
Worse still, admits Maher, some of the fun had gone off it: the training had become a slog, and instead of being weighed down by that fear of being caught having even one social drink, some of players might have been better off taking such a breather.
Ironically, he says, professional rugby players aren’t criticised for drinking after games (often in the dressingroom), while some GAA players can’t even walk into a pub.
“You’re just afraid of what people would say about you, and next thing you’re dropped. That still exists, definitely in Tipperary. It’s the easiest one, because it’s the only one people can figure out themselves... ‘Oh, they mustn’t have been training hard, they must’ve been drinking.’
“If I went into a pub to have a pint, next week even, I’d be getting queer looks from people. There’s always that comparison to rugby, and they seem to have a really good balance, but we’re not quite there yet in the GAA.
“I think it’s getting better but it’s up to the individual again. I don’t mind doing that, I don’t mind having a drink now in Borrisoleigh, even after a league game. I might go in and have a pint or two to meet the lads and have a chat, and that’s it then, I’d go home.
“A few years ago I might have been worried about what people would say, ‘oh, he was out drinking till this time or that time.’ It’s not always about going out.
“My girlfriend is from Kerry, so we go down to her home place, switch off away from it. It’s definitely something I try to do, to switch off and relax. I’m a deep thinker, and I think about the game a lot, so it’s nice to have those things to distract you.”
When all that pressure mounts on top of the training something has to give? “Yeah, we just put too much pressure on ourselves, trying to make sure we had those levels every night at training, every day we went out. I think in the GAA, I’d say a lot of teams over-train, maybe club teams more so. It’s just that culture that is there; we always have to train hard.
“But sometimes you need to train smartly. And when we’re training so much, pulling back isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that’s something I’ve tried myself, to pull back a bit, because I would have been one of the lads driving it, saying we need to drive on hard, push ourselves to be brink every night.
“Some managers feel they have to have that type of set-up, and if it works they set a trend and other clubs and teams will follow suit, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.
“Finding that balance is difficult, but with the help of the managers and the trainers I think we’ve a better hold on it this year.”
Sunday marks Maher’s fifth league final with Tipperary (four losses from four so far, three to Kilkenny, last year to Galway). Win or lose on Sunday, it won’t feel as much of a grind.
“That’s one of the differences this year, we’re probably holding back a little at training, the guys are monitoring a little more. We do the 70-minute sessions, not the 90.
“Even if we feel or ask for more they say no, that’s the length of the session. It’s about getting that balance where you’re getting the work in but also staying fresh and eager for the game.”