Skipper Maher eager to atone for long run of underage pain
Ronan Maher leads Tipperary into this evening's Bord Gáis Energy Munster U-21 hurling final against Waterford determined to claim an elusive provincial medal.
Captain Maher has been a member of the Tipp U-21 panel since 2013 and while he didn't feature in his debut year, the Thurles Sarsfields man started in classic semi-final losses to Clare in 2014 and Limerick last year.
As a starting player, the 20-year-old tasted victory in the U-21 grade for the first time earlier this month when Tipp dethroned Munster and All-Ireland champions Limerick at Semple Stadium.
And Maher says winning Tipp's first provincial U-21 crown since 2010 would be "huge" for this group of players, as they prepare for their visit to Walsh Park.
It's Maher's final year in the U-21 grade and he explained: "It's huge. As a team, we haven't succeeded since minor level and we'll be looking for a bit of silverware.
"In the last few years, we haven't been successful at all at U-21.
"Limerick were very strong, prided themselves on hard work, heart and passion. But we really wanted to get that victory and thankfully we did."
Since that minor success in 2012, it's been a barren run for senior centre-back Maher in the underage ranks.
In 2013, Tipp beat Waterford in the Munster minor quarter-final but the Déise regrouped and won the All-Ireland, as Maher and his colleagues lost the provincial semi-final to Limerick.
Last year at U-21 level, Maher was denied a potentially match-winning goal by Limerick net-minder David McCarthy and he admits that atoning for that defeat against the Shannonsiders was particularly satisfying.
He said: "They beat us last year at the Gaelic Grounds, when we didn't really perform as a team. We were delighted to overcome them.
"Waterford are a huge, huge team with five or six seniors and they've other great players there as well. They're strong all over the field and we're going to have to bring huge heart down there.
"It's going to be a tight field, a good crowd down there.
"Waterford will be hungry enough after beating Clare, and to see us coming after the senior (Munster final) loss. It's going to have some impact. We'll have to work as hard as we can."
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Maher admits that Willie Maher's U-21s are not a star-studded team but they were very much unified in that Limerick win.
He explained: "I don't think we're an All-Star team at all, we're a very tight team, we work to get the ball to the best man in the best position.
"We have a few big men and we like to use them as well.
"The victory over Limerick was massive for us, we've gained some momentum now - we didn't get off to good starts in previous years.
"But we have some momentum going into the Munster final and we're priding ourselves on that work-rate and that heart. We'll have to bring that down to Walsh Park."
And as Maher continues to juggle U-21 and senior commitments, he believes he's managing to strike the right balance.
He said: "There's a good balance between both. Monday night you'd be in the gym, Tuesday night is training either with the U-21s or the seniors, Wednesday night the gym, Thursday night training in the field again, Friday you might have a break and a championship match on the weekend or a training session on the Saturday.
"It's a lot but we like to get back out to the clubs as well when we get the chance, keep in there and keep them happy until the time comes to play for them."