Tipperary’s ‘Bonner’ Maher eager to get back to action
Premier star admits Army duty overseas last season left him playing catch-up in 2017
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher: “You can be the fittest man in the world coming back but it doesn’t make a bit of difference until you get your eye in.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Tipperary’s Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher learnt a lot in 2017, but those lessons came at the expense of his own hurling season.
Serving in his first overseas tour of duty with the Irish Army, Maher only returned to the intercounty fold in May and feels he was playing catch-up for the rest of the summer. On the flip side however, his experiences in Syria and Israel gave him a unique insight into the ongoing conflict there, and a greater appreciation of the life he has in Ireland.
On reflection of the pros and cons he has opted to take a career break this year, and return to university, in a move the two-time All Star hopes will allow for a return to his best form on the pitch.
“Yeah it’s a fairly intense place to step into, going away from everything at home and all your comforts there and being thrown into a place that’s in dire conflict,” Maher explained, talking during the Pwc All Stars Tour in Singapore.
“The first few weeks there you’re very on edge because you’re hearing explosives and you’re hearing gunshots going off. Yeah it’s that intense, I know the first week we were there a yoke pulled up fairly close to us and started firing back into Israel. There were rockets and everything going off and you’re just lying there in your bed.
“You’re in kind of prefab buildings and you’re just sitting there like – the whole place is shaking –- and you’re just sitting there saying ‘what am I doing here’.
“It’s in the Golan Heights region. So it’s a zone of separation between Israel and Syria it’s along the fence there. It’s interesting, like I said the first few weeks when you’re out there it’s very intense but then it nearly becomes a norm after about a month. You hear an explosion and you’re just used to it. When you’d be on the Syrian side you’d see a lot more stuff going on. It’s a norm for them to be carrying around weapons.
“You’d be seeing lads going around on mopeds with AK-47s hanging out the back. It’s bananas. But it’s something I always wanted to do, to serve overseas for my country, and it’s just interesting like that you come back with a different concept of what’s going on out there and you kind of – you’re on the ground so you get to see an awful lot of what’s actually going on out there.”
Maher though believes that his eye-opening experiences had a direct impact on his performances on the pitch, as Tipp lost their crown in an All-Ireland semi-final defeat to eventual champions Galway.
“It’s hard to come back from [being overseas], I didn’t come back full-time until May and while your fitness would be up to a certain level, your hurling, it obviously takes you a while to get back into it. And that would always be one thing that stands to me is the fitness, but the hurling is probably something I lacked this year.
“From my own point of view, I was fairly disappointed with how the year went for me personally. You put an awful lot of demand on yourself to try and get up to that level but it’s hard when boys have five months on you from a hurling perspective. You’re kind of catching up for the year.
“We were interchanging through two different camps, so it was two weeks out in Syria and two in Israel, and we had a ball wall there and a few lads to puck about with . . . but match fitness is completely different. You can be the fittest man in the world coming back but it doesn’t make a bit of difference until you get your eye in.
“So I’m actually after taking a career break for this year, so I’m up in DIT doing a [Business management] course and I’m hurling in the Fitzgibbon and I’m hurling at the minute, playing a couple of practice matches and I think that’s going to stand to me more in 2018. And I think I’ll be that bit more sharper because of it.”
Despite his own personal disappointments, the 28-year-old does not believe this year was a wholly negative one for Tipperary. He does admit though that the legacy of his talented generation will be decided in the next few years.
“It wasn’t that bad of a year. The league final was heavy enough, the Cork defeat or whatever. We picked ourselves up and came back at Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. It was two heavyweights going blow for blow. The last year three years, there has only been a point in between us in All-Ireland semi-finals.
“We’ve been in some titanic battles up along and we probably feel that we should have more than we have. An awful lot of great teams came through and have nothing to show for it as well like. Over the next two years it’ll define us as a team. We’re just looking forward to that challenge, we’re looking forward to next year. We’ve had a group meeting and everyone is looking forward to it, looking forward to the year ahead.”