Tipperary’s Maher braced for ‘massive challenge’

Final assignment against champions Kilkenny in Nowlan Park as tough as they come

Behind the hype and expectation that surrounds an Allianz Hurling League final between two old rivals such as Tipperary and Kilkenny it's easy to forget the still amateur ethos behind the professional front, and that some players have other things to worry about besides hooking and blocking.

Brendan Maher has been working overtime for much of the past two years, restoring both his playing fitness and confidence after badly breaking his ankle in March of 2011, while at the same time working just as hard to secure a permanent teaching position, having qualified three years ago.

Not that the Tipperary defender is alone: Maher fully recognises there are countless other qualified teachers in his position, and is hopeful that over time he can secure a permanent post. One of the downsides, Maher says half-jokingly, is that he definitely won't be getting paid summer holidays, but then he also has his father's trucking business as further back up.

Finished up
"I am only substitute teaching at the moment," he explains. "I was on a short-term contract in Templederry, subbing for a maternity leave since September of last year but, unfortunately that finished up, just before Easter.

“At the moment I’m just working day-to-day, hoping to get a call from a school to go in and get some work. It might be for just one day, maybe two or three. It’s tough but I’ve been getting the couple of days here and there. I have a bit of work with my father at home, in his truck business. I have a license – and it’s nice to be able to do something different as well, go away and do a bit of driving.


“And one of the downsides of not being permanent is that you don’t get paid for the summer but I’m lucky I have work at home, and I’m very glad to have that. I’ll help out at the Cúl camps also with the county board, glad to have that also.”

The system, it seems, is what’s holding Maher back as much as anything else, and why he knows he needs to be just patient: “With the way the cuts came in, the supplementary panels and all that, I wasn’t entitled to even apply for a job. Thankfully the panels are almost clear now, hopefully something permanent will come up in September.”

Main motivation
Now, winning a league title with Tipperary on Sunday mightn't do his chances of permanent employment any harm, not that Maher is even considering that. Indeed when questioned about his main motivation going down to Nowlan Park on Sunday he was adamant it was all about the end result, and certainly nothing to do with giving Kilkenny a beating on their own turf.

“It’s all about the league title, hands down,” he says, and indeed Maher may have won almost every other honour in the game – including All-Ireland minor, under-21 and senior with Tipperary – but a league medal still eludes him.

“I came in a year too late, so I missed the 2008 one. It’s a league medal and I’d be hoping to win a few of them, to be honest with you. I want to try and win as many medals as possible and hopefully Sunday is the first of a few of them.

“But any time you play Kilkenny it’s a massive challenge. They’re going to be no different than if they were going to be playing in Croke Park or Semple Stadium. That’s the way we are approaching the game. We just want to go down and get a performance out of ourselves. If it’s good enough to win, then excellent.”

Much has been made already of the fact both Tipperary and Kilkenny overcame poor starts to their league campaign to make Sunday's final: for Tipperary, there was the natural excuse of a transition period for new manager Eamonn O'Shea, and yet not long after their opening round defeat to Cork, it was as if O'Shea pressed a button, and suddenly their best form was regained.

Own man
For Maher – whose enduring versatility still sees him switch between half backs, midfield, and half forward – it's not quite that simple, because O'Shea is very much his own man, not just the former selector and trainer who worked with Liam Sheedy.

"That was the one thing Eamonn emphasised to us when he came in – that it wasn't going to be the same as 2010 or 2009. He is in a new role, he was a trainer back then, it is a different role for him, as manager now. We have a new trainer, Paudie O'Neill, and Mick Ryan (selector) is in more an assistant-coach or assistant-manager role as well.

People will say ‘they are playing a lot like they did back in those days’ but we don’t see it that way. Eamonn is always saying to us we are a new team now and we are trying to become a good team again. . . I’m sure he’s enjoying and he’s doing a brilliant job so far.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics