Friday 30 September 2016

'I had a vision of my name on the senior roll of honour - now it's going to be there' - Brendan Maher

Brendan Maher says Tipperary had to be different this year to finally conquer Cats

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Michael Ryan and his staff celebrate Tipperary’s victory Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Michael Ryan and his staff celebrate Tipperary’s victory Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

On the Monday after their All-Ireland semi-final win over Galway, Brendan Maher got a quiet moment in the family home in Borrisoleigh and began to scribble down a few words.

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No tempting fate in that. The All-Ireland final was still a little less than three weeks away but Maher was already in planning mode and set aside a little time to compose the outline of a speech he might have to draw upon.

Finishing it that day gave him peace of mind. It was handed on to a third party and forgotten about.

But it illustrated the mindset that has underpinned everything about Tipperary in 2015. Nothing left to chance. Experience informing better preparation.

"I saw there was a copy and a biro on the table so I just said, 'right, I'll jot down a few thank-yous' and it was out of my head then," he said.

"I probably learned that from the last time in 2014 and I had spoken to Eoin (Kelly) about it as well and he said he didn't do it in 2010 and it corrupted his thoughts in the lead-up to it.

"That's natural no matter how focused you are coming in to it, that's still going to come into your head.

"I didn't have to think about it because I had it written down, but I'd be like that - I like to write things down."

Captaincy means a lot to him. In his home village there's a mural on the gable end of Stapleton's public house with images of previous All-Ireland-winning captains from the area.

When Tipp won the 1950 and '51 All-Ireland titles, Sean Kenny and Jimmy Finn were captains. In '89, Bobby Ryan became the third.

Maher's profile has been etched in beside them for Tipp's 2007 All-Ireland minor win but now it will feel complete.

"I had a vision of my name going down beside the senior roll of honour and now it's going to be there," he reflected warmly.

"To have your name down with Bobby, Jimmy and Sean, legends around our way, I'm just glad my name is there. That's one side of things, from a personal point of view."

At the general level, though, there is satisfaction at once again staring down Kilkenny and refusing to blink.

Thirteen times they have met since 2010 and only twice in routine league games (they drew the 2014 All-Ireland final) could they say they stood firm. The 'lost years' have cut deep.

So often Maher, as captain and one of their real leaders, has been sent out to bat for team-mates he always insisted did not have a soft centre. He has always fought the good fight for them. And for 75 or so compelling minutes here in Croke Park they answered every question.

"Just delighted for the whole group which has put in so much effort over the last few years," Maher said. "It wasn't just a case of giving it everything this year - this has been going on consistently since I joined the panel.

"I suppose, when you talk about the mental thing, I think what has made us stronger is that we have detached ourselves from that. Perception is reality and there was a perception out there that we were nearly starting to believe.

Believe

"We had to be different this year. We had to say 'look, this is the way we are' and we had to believe in it more. We had such a strong group in there and a very private group - we kept to ourselves, knuckled down, and just focused on what was important."

At the heart of the operation has been Michael Ryan, twice a selector in three-year blocks with Liam Sheedy and Eamon O'Shea.

After the 2014 defeat to Kilkenny, O'Shea announced that he wouldn't be seeking to stretch his term beyond a third year and Ryan was confirmed, 12 months out, as his successor. It was novel, something risky move but, as Ryan now observes, it was done with the right intentions.

"Look, it was probably a bit unusual but it was very well intentioned," he said. "In every county, particularly in Tipp, speculation can just run riot.

"We felt we were on the right path, we weren't up here and successful, yeah, we still had to work at it.

"But we absolutely felt we had a really good bunch of players and that we were on the right track and that we wanted continuity."

The issue of having the mental resolve to exist wholly in Kilkenny's world has been raised time and again over the previous five years but this year Ryan felt different about it.

"You know I would have felt all season this team would have answered the questions that would have been directed towards them.

"It's very hard to win against top-class opposition and I can say that now because we've won. But for all the other counties who have failed down through the years, it is so difficult.

Read More: Henry Shefflin: 'Bubbles' embodies everything that was different about Tipp men in 2016

"We were playing the most successful team that has ever played the game and the most successful manager who has managed in any sport, as far as I'm concerned, be it hurling or football. That's just a tribute to where Kilkenny have taken their game over the last 12 years.

"So I wouldn't beat myself up too much or any of these previous Tipperary teams. We were certainly not happy about it but you just have to keep believing and keep doing the right things and I think that's testament to what we saw out there today that we did.

"We never stopped believing that we were on the right track and these boys would cross these lines when they were asked."

They did too. The sight near the end of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan getting their wires crossed summed up an imperfect day for the champions who were hassled and harried at every turn.

Ryan paid rich tribute to Eamon O'Shea but felt the hurt of previous defeats wasn't that relevant and has been "overdone".

"They did hurt, Mother of God they did hurt, but you move on and you can't live your life looking over your shoulder," he said.

"Today was a brand new day, it was there to be played. Sometimes history can be a burden so you have got to put it in its place, take what you can from it, learn from it and confine it to history after that.

"We had four or five rookies playing out there who were playing in their first final. Those guys have opened up a whole new chapter for themselves and they will absolutely relish the chance to come back and do something in 2017."

Irish Independent

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