'I won't sugar-coat it – we wanted to have a National League medal in the back pocket before championship'
Maher calls on Tipp to take positives from Cats defeat and help manager O'Shea reap rewards he deserves
TIPPERARY will use the hurt from last year to boost their championship challenge this season.
That's the verdict of All Star Padraic Maher, who also wants to see manager Eamon O'Shea get tangible rewards for his dedication and team-building in the last 20 months.
Maher, speaking at the launch of Centra's 16 community hurling events to run throughout the country this summer, is fed up with the pain of defeat.
Last year the wounds ran particularly deep, with Cody's Cats dumping on Tipp in the league final and in the second phase of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
The recent extra-time loss to Kilkenny in this season's league decider really stings – but not as much as the 2013 experience.
Speaking of the most recent meeting between the sides, Maher says: "It's very disappointing, especially after going the whole way to the last minute of extra-time, to then fall asleep in the last minute and let them take a short side-line cut.
"I won't sugar-coat it – we wanted to win the game and have a national league medal in the back pocket going into the first round of the championship. But look, it was a decent performance.
"There were plenty of positives to take out of the game and plenty of stuff to improve on as well, so we are happy enough going into the championship."
The Tipp players got stick for some faltering performances in the league, but all the pressure came on manager O'Shea from the pundits and critics inside and outside Tipp.
Despite the criticism, O'Shea managed to stay cool and steady the ship. His leadership was, and is, appreciated by his players.
"He's a brilliant manager. He's a great man-manager. He'll talk to each player individually. He's very good at getting his point across. He makes it so easy to play for him and to train with him," says Maher.
"He'll tell you straight up if you're not doing it right or not doing it as good as you should be it, but that's what being a manager is all about.
"He has been fantastic for us since he came back. Unfortunately we couldn't get results for him last year, but, hopefully, we can turn it around this year and use the hurt."
Maher, a two-time All Star and 2010 All-Ireland winner, looks to have settled in well at full-back in the absence of Paul Curran, but he has also featured at wing-back, centre-back and midfield this year.
In the recent league final, the Tipp backline was anchored by Brendan Maher at centre-back and Padraic at full-back, the roles they filled in winning the 2010 All-Ireland U-21 title with the Premier County.
"I don't mind. It's whatever you can contribute to the team and I do feel comfortable there, (at full-back). I played there a lot at underage, so I'm no stranger to that area," says Padraic Maher. "I'll play anywhere at all. Brendan has no problem moving to the wing or anywhere around the backline and it's the same with a lot of the other lads.
"The way the game has gone now anyway, you have to be able to adapt and to play in two or three positions.
"But Eamon makes it so easy for us to go out and play, it's all a bonus really."
Tipp players, be they veterans such as Lar Corbett, who is making his way back from injury, or newcomers like Cathal Barrett and James Barry, are being trusted by O'Shea to adapt to changing circumstances in matches.
"It's one thing he has changed this year, I suppose," says Maher.
"If there is a decision to be made during the game or if something needs to be changed then it's over to us. We're the ones on the field, we can see best what way to turn it and Eamon gave us that bit of freedom.
"He's not going to give out to us if we make a decision and it doesn't turn out to be right.
"He has given us the freedom to do that and, hopefully, that will make us better players and a better team come the championship."
Tipp begin the campaign at Thurles against Limerick on June 1 and Maher is eager to get into action.
He does not consider that the recent departure of joint-manager Donal O'Grady will undermine the Limerick effort. In fact, he expects the opposite reaction.
"I saw their captain coming out the other day saying it's after making them stronger. Something like that might bring the group tighter together," he says.
"We're under no illusions of what we're up against. They're Munster champions after all and that's not won easily, so that will give them confidence and the experience of winning last year will help them.
"They'll enjoy coming to Thurles as much as we enjoy it, so we're looking forward to it."