Tipperary's last dance? Ronan Maher has heard that one before.
“And I wouldn’t consider myself old,” shot back the 25-year-old. A fair call, yet of the six defenders that lined out in the Munster final defeat to Limerick, he was the youngest.
Four of the starting team were 30 or more and the average age of the line-up came in at just shy of 28. Despite All-Ireland U21/U20 wins in 2018 and 2019, goalkeeper Barry Hogan and Jake Morris were the only players from those teams to make the line-up against Limerick.
So when their second-half collapse arrived – Tipp were outscored by 2-17 to 1-5 in that period – the ‘ageing team’ explanation was the one that many immediately reached.
“It’s something that is going around but to be honest the boys are well able to handle themselves and to stay going at the minute as far as I can see,” said Maher.
"Liam Sheedy is a very experienced manager and he knows these lads and if they were gone past it and if they didn't have anything to offer, then he wouldn't be putting them in a Tipp jersey. I feel that's just a few lads' opinions of us."
Liam Cahill was in charge of those two All-Ireland winning U21/U20 teams. On Saturday afternoon at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, he'll plot Tipp's downfall as Waterford manager.
And as if to underline the ultra-experienced core that runs through the Tipp team, Maher's brother, Pádraic, Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath, all of whom started the recent Munster final, were also starters in the 2007 All-Ireland minor final win over Cork, when Cahill was a Tipp selector.
Maher’s glass half-full approach to the age issue is that in a knock-out game like Saturday’s, experience counts for everything.
"There are monsters of men that have been around for 10, 11, 12 years in that Tipp back line and they've been to the summit," said Maher, perhaps referencing Cathal Barrett and Séamus Kennedy too. "They know what to do, they know what it takes to win. There are leaders all over that team with huge experience.
“It’s do-or-die at this stage. That experience is vital coming towards the latter end of the season if you want to push on towards the All-Ireland. You saw even in 2019, experience was vital in getting over Wexford. That game was a big boost for us.”
Tipp went on to win the All-Ireland that year, franking the greatness also of 32-year-old Séamus Callanan.
Two years on, if all that high mileage in the Tipp team is a potential weakness, then Cahill is well placed to exploit it having worked so closely with so many of them in the past.
“It’s very strange to see him on the sideline there when you’re playing,” said half back Maher. “He brings out his own personality in the team when you see them playing. They’re very fired up so we’re expecting a massive battle on Saturday.
“We’ve seen it with teams he has been over in the past, they all seem to be the same. He’s very driven on the line and brings great energy to the team. We’ll be looking to match that at the weekend.”
Both sides come into the game off the back of poor second-half performances in their most recent games. Tipp’s implosion against Limerick was fatal though Waterford escaped against Galway last weekend despite a 16-point lead after 55 minutes being whittled down to just three at one stage in stoppage-time.
“I feel like we didn’t show up in the second half of that game,” said Maher of the Munster final, admitting he’d ‘like to get a crack at them again’.
First things first though. The good news with Waterford in mind is that Tipp haven’t lost to them in the Championship since 2008. That’s the upside of experience which is loaded in Tipp’s favour.
“We’ve had massive battles over the years and I suppose it does give you that bit of confidence going forward and belief,” said Maher. “But this is a whole new Waterford team under Liam Cahill. They bring massive fight and they’re really on top of their game at the moment.
“Our main focus for the weekend is on making sure we play the way we want to play and not looking back on previous performances.”