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Maher proof that if you're good enough, you're old enough

posted 1 Sep 2011, 12:13 by Unknown user

TIPPERARY v KILKENNY: Tipperary’s right half back stood out against Dublin but he knows the biggest test has yet to come, writes IAN O'RIORDAN 

IN THE neatly scripted press packs that come with the meeting and greeting of players before All-Ireland final day are the little stats boxes, which outline age, height, weight, etc – plus the various honours garnered over the years.

So we know Pádraic Maher is 22 years old, 6ft 1in, and 14st 11lbs, etc, although to use more sporting vernacular, he is pound-for-pound among the toughest, strongest, most productive defenders in the game. Maher is, as they say in the business, absolutely “cut” – as if chiselled from stone: indeed Michelangelo himself could have carved out his features.

Maher is also proof that if you’re good enough you’re old enough. He only joined the Tipperary seniors two years ago, as a 20-year-old, yet ended up nailing down the full back position, and although they ultimately lost out to Kilkenny in the 2009 All-Ireland final, Maher was named All Star full back.

Last year he made the right half back position his own, playing a key role in Tipperary capturing the All-Ireland – and then just six days later he captained the county under-21s in the 25-point All-Ireland win over Galway, this time playing at full back.

Among the other things the press packs don’t tell you (such as Maher meeting the Queen, etc) is that the morning after last year’s senior final, he looked like a man who hadn’t slept at all, but instead embraced the All-Ireland celebrations for all their worth.

Yet six days later he was back to his fearsome best: that’s how it is when you’re young and invincible, and when it comes to the physical challenges, Maher likes to roll with the punches, no matter how hard.

“I suppose the game is changing,” he says. “Teams are training that way, to be more physical, and I think referees are buying into it as well. For me it is the best way to have it, because players are getting to express themselves, with their hurling and physically as well.

“And I suppose these games with Kilkenny take on a life of their own. It’s only a matter of the referee throwing in the ball, and letting us at for it for 70 minutes. Two hungry teams, two teams mad for success, and have got success in the last couple of years. Both of us also felt the hurt of losing an All-Ireland final, so no one is going to want to relinquish what we’ve got over the last couple of years. It has the makings of a great final.”

Maher has actually gained an extra 9lb from last year, which presumably is pure muscle, and although far more targeted, by both his own team and the opposition, he has carved out a greater role for himself, epitomised by the way he fired over two crucial points in the semi-final win over Dublin.

“That was just going with instinct,” he says. “Lucky for me I was on the end of a few balls I had a chance of scoring with. But more often than not Eoin Kelly and Larry Corbett won’t be happy if you are going for your own scores. We want to get the ball into them as much as possible. We have the forwards who are capable of doing damage, if they get the right ball. That’s our job as a backline.

“Everybody knows our forwards can damage teams, but we’re going to have to work very hard to get the ball in against Kilkenny. The work ethic Kilkenny bring to the game, we’re going to have to match that or better it.”

Maher actually set up Tipperary’s first goal against Waterford in the Munster final, which turned into the 7-19 goal-fest, but knows Kilkenny are a completely different prospect, even from the semi-final against Dublin. He still recalls the way they hit last year, and expects no less on Sunday.

“Against Kilkenny it’s always such a physical game. I suppose you only feel the hits on the morning after, because they are such high intensity and you are so into the game at the time. Kilkenny will bring that massive physical edge to the game again on Sunday. I thought we brought that last year, and we are just concentrating on bringing it this year again.”

Another indication of his powerful influence on the Tipperary game is the fact that Kilkenny have effectively repositioned Michael Rice to curtail it – although not surprisingly, Maher is not bothered by who ends up shadowing him: “It makes no difference. It’s up to you to win your own battle, and hopefully the team will win their battle overall. It comes back to hard work again, and team work. Kilkenny are going to be driven anyway.”

So, even though he stood out again against Dublin, Maher reckons the biggest challenge, physically and mentally, comes on Sunday – which is why he is sure to be in the thick of it.

“Dublin had their homework done on us. Their tactics worked in that they were stopping that supply of ball going in quickly. I don’t think any of the players were complacent going into the game. I know the talk was Tipperary are odds-on to beat Dublin, but we knew deep down the challenge they were going to bring.

“Kilkenny have been beaten once since 2005, and lucky enough that was against us last year. But we know the effort it took to beat Kilkenny. We have to match it this year and maybe even better it to get the result we want. Because last year was the hardest we have played as a group in the last number of years.”

PÁDRAIC MAHER 

Position : Left half back.

Age : 22.

Club : Thurles Sarsfields.

Height : 6ft 1in.

Weight : 14st 11lbs.

Occupation : Student.

Championship debut : 2009, v Cork.

Championship appearances : 15.

Championship score : 0-4.

Honours : 1 senior All-Ireland hurling; 2 senior Munster; 2 All-Ireland minor; 1 Munster minor; 2 Munster Under-21; 1 All-Ireland under-21; 1 All Star; 1 Tipperary county title.

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