Monday 20 February 2017

Paudie Maher: There was a burden on us after 2010 - we felt that pressure

Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30

Paudie Maher celebrates in Croke Park after Tipperary’s victory over Kilkenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paudie Maher celebrates in Croke Park after Tipperary’s victory over Kilkenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paudie Maher referenced it first. That six years ago we stood in the same corner of the lobby of the Burlington Hotel in similar circumstances. He just didn't think it'd be so long before he'd be basking in the warmth of the Monday after an All-Ireland final win again.

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Back in 2010, Tipperary had beaten Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final with a team laced with exciting young talent, including Maher.

Paudie Maher celebrating with the victorious Tipp minor team. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Paudie Maher celebrating with the victorious Tipp minor team. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

They'd go on to add the All-Ireland U-21 title to their haul five days later when they dismantled Galway in Thurles. Eight of the successful senior side played that day, and that night almost felt like part of the celebrations.

Tipp were, it seemed, well placed to take control of the hurling landscape.

Yesterday morning there was a similar feeling to the place. There was an air that they could be on the precipice of something big. Some of Tipp's successful minor team buzzed around the lobby. The heroes of tomorrow mixing with the men of today.

How could Tipperary people not be excited by it all?

But Maher's sense of deja vu was obvious. Here he was looking at newcomers like John McGrath, his brother Ronan, Dan McCormack. Six years ago, he was in their shoes, all wide-eyed thinking days like that would be plentiful.

The problem was the rest of Tipp had similar ideas. And Maher sees now that the weight of expectation weighed heavily on them.

"In 2010 I was like Ronan and Mikey Breen, coming in with no fear. That carefree attitude, just going out and enjoying it," he said.

"The likes of myself, Brendan (Maher) and Noel (McGrath) and Mickey Cahill got caught up in the whole thing where there was a burden on our shoulders for the next few years.

Release

"We felt that pressure. This year we got a release of that. I think that showed in our hurling performances.

"We probably took it all for granted. Not only the players but everyone in Tipperary expected, 'this is it now, one after the other'.

"But it's not that easy when you come up against good teams like Kilkenny. And Galway caught us a few times as well.

"Like, a couple of lads yesterday weren't able to celebrate, they were so tired. That's the effort you have to put in. But it's all worth it. It's a great feeling now."

So on Sunday, the boys who had helped derailed the 'Drive for Five' back in 2010 played like men possessed. Maher explained that for the players of his era, the cost of defeat would be too high. They simply couldn't afford to lose to Kilkenny again. If they did, they might never have been seen again.

"We knew the 10 minutes after half-time was when Kilkenny hit you. That's what they do. They scored the goal and went two points up and people were wondering what way it would go.

"Everyone knuckled down. We went five points up with 20 minutes to go. I remember looking around to the backs and everyone was tapping the head - everybody keep the head, next ball, we had rehearsed that in training.

"That's where we got caught before in other All-Irelands against Kilkenny. The experience told there, which was great.

"We always had full belief, 100pc belief (that they could win another All-Ireland).

"But if we had lost yesterday it would have been very hard to come back. I know it's very easy to say it now when you have won, but there are a few of us there for the last few years, and to be beaten in another All-Ireland final, no matter who you are beaten by, it would have been some sucker punch.

"That's why it's as big a relief just to get over the line."

The job now is ensuring the new faces that populate the Tipp set-up don't go the same way Maher and his generation did for a couple of seasons. That they don't get dragged down by the expectation. And they don't have to wait six years before climbing the summit again.

And Maher believes Michael Ryan is the right man to bring through the next wave.

"The lads are grounded. With Mick in charge he will keep us grounded," he said. "He's done a fantastic job. Eamon (O'Shea) has laid great ground-work the last number of years but Mick has turned it a small bit as well.

"He's so honest, if lads were getting carried away he'd say it to you. The personality of the manager came out in that performance yesterday.

"We have great respect for him, he makes it so easy to play for him, he hands it over to the players to take ownership. If you are not doing it, he'll let you know."

Winter will pass a little easier in Tipp this year. There'll be loads of requests and demands and a certain amount of them we're unavoidable. Maher and Co know that situation will have to be managed and he revealed that they had already been warned that trying to defend their title will take an even greater effort.

"You can't get carried away. There will be more lads pulling out of you for the next few months to take the cup here and there," he said. "We got caught up in that before. It's great to have it.

"But as Mick said yesterday we are going back in November and we are going to have to work even harder and find some other edge to get us over the line next year again."

Irish Independent

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