Maher itching to get back in thick of action
AMIDST the hustle and bustle in the minutes before last Sunday's Munster championship clash in Thurles, there was a small but not insignificant development for Tipperary.
Brendan Maher came through Tipp's intense pre-match warm-up routine before being reduced to the supporting cast for the rest of the afternoon.
That was the first piece of 'contact work' he did since breaking his ankle and he came through unscathed. Afterwards, the Young Hurler of the Year ran the line with new hurls and water for his team-mates. He was within touching distance of the action but he might as well have been a million miles away.
"I didn't enjoy it, to be honest," said the Borris-Ileigh clubman. "It was enjoyable in a way to be on the line instead of sitting in the stands. I was involved and I was able to go in to the boys, probably when I shouldn't have been going in! It was nice to be able to go in and have a word with the boys because I felt more involved."
Since breaking his ankle in a freak accident in his garden 10 weeks ago, Maher's recovery has gone to plan but his availability for the Munster semi-final clash with Clare on June 19 is still in doubt.
He will train with the club tonight and return to full participation with the county next week, meaning he'll only have 10 days' training under his belt in the run up to the Gaelic Grounds tie.
"It is 10 weeks since last Friday, but I only had the cast put on it on the Wednesday after. I'm ahead of schedule if you look at it that way," said the Puma ambassador. "I'm not going to rush into full competitive hurling.
"I want to get a bit of fitness first because if I go back trying to hurl there's always a chance of pulling a hamstring or doing something else, so I have to be careful."
Tipperary didn't have it all their own way at midfield last weekend, with Lorcan McLoughlin and Pa Cronin probably shading the contest. Maher's return will add another option in that area, with Shane McGrath expected to make a full recovery from the knock to his knee he picked up last weekend. And despite an eight-point winning margin over one of their biggest rivals, he acknowledged there is plenty to work on.
"We gave away a lot of frees, 17 or 18 I think it was, scoreable frees in particular and that's something to work on. The fact that we let a lead slip twice, let them in for some soft scores. There's a lot to work on," he said.
"But in the last 10 minutes we showed the character. Benny Dunne's goal, the work from 'Bonner' Maher epitomises him and the team in general, and the few points to seal it -- they were positives. We were happy to get a win and it's all forward from here.
"The leadership was shown, even from one of the youngest players on the field in Noel McGrath when he put over that line-ball. The belief is there from last year and it brought that experience forward. I think we showed that the hunger is still there.
"If you think back to 12 months ago we're certainly a step ahead. It's a long road ahead and we're not thinking a few months down the line. We're taking it step by step -- we have gotten over step one and step two is three weeks down the line against Clare."
In the meantime, his team-mates made the most of his role as part of the back-room team and charged him with the responsibility of bringing home gear bags and equipment. However, it's only a matter of time before he's back in the spotlight.