'It's time we were talking about games we've won'
Paudie Maher trying to forget defeats to Cats
Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30
It's almost a full six years since a bleary-eyed Paudie Maher stood in the lobby of the Burlington Hotel on the morning after the 2010 All-Ireland final.
Tipperary was waking up to its reacquired status as All-Ireland champions. Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five' had been halted and Maher was one of the new wave of Tipp hurlers ready to drive the county on to a new era of success.
That feeling that there were only good times to come was buttressed when, just five days later, he was one of eight members of the successful senior squad that would star on the U-21 team that dismantled Galway in the All-Ireland final.
That win in Semple Stadium meant Maher had secured the full set of All-Ireland medals, having won two Celtic Crosses as a minor.
The hurling world, it seemed, belonged to Maher and Tipperary.
Fast-forward six years and the hoarding of precious medals has slowed dramatically. Failing to deliver on the 'Drive for Five' has proven to be only a blip for the Cats, who have roared back to win four of the five All-Irelands since.
Tipp have been there or thereabouts and have won Munster titles, but it wasn't meant to be this way.
Had you told the young Maher who stood in the lobby that Monday morning in 2010 that this is how things would pan out, he just wouldn't have bought it.
"If you asked me that week (I'd have said) that wouldn't happen but it has," he offers. "We have taken a lot of hits along the way. We have gained a lot of experience too.
"Our panel is still fairly young, we are nearly the older lads on the panel, - bar two or three lads out of the 36 the panel are about 26-27 years of age. So we are still relatively young but we have a lot of experience.
"We have been in this position before. We are preparing for a fifth final against Kilkenny, we have only come out the right side once so we have to find something different this time round to get over the line.
"We were close the last time, just a puck of the ball. But Kilkenny have always been on the right side of that puck of the ball."
Don't ask Maher which of the recent defeats to the Cats has hurt the most because they all rankle.
His first taste of defeat to them in the 2009 final was tough to take but it's not just finals that leave a scar. The epic 2013 qualifier clash was as galling as any defeat he's suffered.
"The qualifier in Nowlan Park in 2013 hurt as much as any of them, so again talking about the games we have lost against Kilkenny. . . it's about time we start talking about the games we have won."
Maher talks like a man out to right a wrong. And he's playing that way too. In the All-Ireland semi-final win against Galway, he was superb. His huge hit on Joe Canning and perfectly timed block to deny Galway a goal when they were on top were standout moments, and he also got forward to score a point.
Tipp have rejigged their team a little, with new leaders emerging. Maher's release to wing-back has been facilitated by the emergence of brother Ronan in the No 6 jersey. Michael Breen is well on his way to an All-Star. Noel McGrath's brother John has been excellent. Tipp's options have expanded enough that they could afford to leave the brilliant John O'Dwyer on the bench the last day.
So the buzz has been building in the Premier county. Tipperary, as a team, have been making all the right noises, winning games when down to 14 men and going through the front door.
And there is a sense too that the absence of Michael Fennelly from the Kilkenny team will improve their chances significantly. Tipperary people expect.
"Tipperary hurling people want Tipperary to win," acknowledges Maher. "They expect to win the Liam MacCarthy every year and we as players, that is our aim every year.
"When you don't win it, or you put in a performance like we did against Galway last year and lose you, are going to get a bit of criticism.
"At this stage of our lives we are able to take that bit of criticism on the chin and move on. We have gained a lot of experience from it over the years.
"We have nothing against people being demanding (we) win silverware because we expect it ourselves.
"And we believe we have the talent to do that, and if we are not doing that then we are disappointed and the supporters will be disappointed as well.
"It's great that there is a bit of a buzz at the moment, but that buzz will only last if we bring back Liam MacCarthy."
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