'We've been the most criticised team in hurling' - Brendan Maher
Published 10/08/2016 | 02:30
Tipperary captain Brendan Maher empathised with the Galway hurlers when they were slated for their Leinster final second-half collapse against Kilkenny.
That's because midfielder Maher believes the Tipp hurlers have been the game's "most criticised team" in recent years.
Maher has become more immune to the stick that comes Tipp's way, admitting that he took more of it on board as a younger player.
But the 27-year-old's motivational focus has narrowed and allowed him some fresh perspective on who, and what, matters in his life.
Maher reflects: "We have probably been the most criticised team in hurling over the past number of years.
"Galway have got their fair share of criticism this year and you would feel sorry for them as players.
"There is all this talk of player power and all that, but I know, as an inter-county hurler - and I have no doubt that the Galway boys are no different - that all you want to do is go out and play.
"I don't know what has gone on up there (Galway). I don't know the situation so I won't comment on that, but, definitely, we have got our fair share of criticism so you would understand what they are going through."
For Maher, the remaining years of his time in the blue and gold are about ensuring that he leaves with "no regrets", and fulfils the goals that he's set out for himself on a personal level, and for the team.
He says: "I have said in the past that when I am finished hurling I don't want to have any regrets.
"I want to be able to look back on my career and say that I gave it my all, that I represented myself with dignity, that I did my family and my friends proud. You think about that every time you go out on the pitch.
"A lot of stuff can bog you down but I have probably got rid of that baggage.
"There is a little bit more of a sense that I am happier in my own skin. I know what's important, what makes me tick and I know what I want to get out of my career. And I know what I want to get out of it as a Tipperary hurler."
Maher would dearly love to claim at least one more All-Ireland medal before signing off.
A two-time All-Ireland minor medallist in 2006 and '07, the latter year as captain, Maher went on to claim senior and U-21 success in 2010.
But the six years since have been a tale of woe for Tipp in the All-Ireland series, with last year's semi-final defeat to Sunday's opponents Galway particularly hard to take.
Maher has also experienced final losses in 2009, 2011 and 2014 - each leaving him distraught for days.
"It's hard to describe," says Maher, when asked to compare semi-final and final defeats.
"Last year's semi-final defeat was one of the toughest I have had in my career, but then in saying that I remember crying for days after the 2009 All-Ireland, the 2011 defeat, and in 2014, being captain there was a little bit more on the line for myself.
"I have tried to learn from those defeats, and I try to be a bit more free about the whole thing.
"Thinking back on those can catch you a little bit in what you are doing at present.
"You acknowledge it and the stuff is in the back of your mind, but it remains in the back of your mind and it never corrupts your thoughts.
"You might have something written down as a gentle reminder, but we really are just focusing on what we can do now and what we can do today to make ourselves better."
In that regard, Maher has been busy ticking the boxes in the four and a half weeks since the Munster final victory over Waterford, having admitted straight after the game that Tipp struggled to cope with the five weeks between provincial glory and defeat to Galway last year.
"It was hard to remember what we had done in the five weeks building up, but it was in the back of your mind - you were kind of thinking 'I am going to do something different now and build up that mental toughness?'," he says.
"Every day, whether it is in gym or out on the field, we are just trying to find that extra inch or per cent that we are going to need."
Last August was particularly difficult for the Tipperary players, who were desperate to reward Eamon O'Shea's efforts with All-Ireland glory.
Maher explains: "Eamonn has done so much for Tipperary hurling over the years that I have been involved. He's such a passionate man and he had the utmost respect of all the players.
"It was a very, very difficult defeat. But he spoke to us and he is still in contact with us.
"Just because he is not the Tipperary manager doesn't mean that he does not have an influence on us. He is still a major Tipperary supporter and very much a part of this group."