Maher pumped up for Croker combat
The first thing you notice about Padraic Maher as he sits down is his physique.
He's weighing in at nine pounds heavier than he did this time last year according to the official figures, but you wouldn't have to look at a sheet of paper to determine that. He's bursting out of every limb.
Every last sinew is carrying far greater punch than it did 12 months ago, making 22-year-old Maher an even more imposing player.
No wonder, then, that he's relishing the physical side of Sunday's All-Ireland final against Kilkenny. At 14st 11lbs, he has only goalkeeper Brendan Cummins ahead of him in terms of mass on the Tipperary team.
His hope for Sunday is that it's little more than "a matter of the referee throwing in the ball and letting the two teams go at it". Maher will savour the combat.
It's wishful thinking from the young man but it'll also be the probable thought for the majority of the 82,300 expected to attend Croke Park who'll be looking forward to part three of this wondrous series of All-Ireland finals between these rivals.
"Against Kilkenny it's such a physical game. I suppose you only feel the hits the morning after because they are such high intensity and you are so into the game at the time," Maher said.
"The best way to play the game is the way Tipp and Kilkenny are going at it for the last number of years. They are such exciting games. They're great to watch and even to play they are fantastic as well.
"It's only a matter of the referee throwing in the ball and letting us at it for 70 minutes. Both of us have felt the hurt of losing an All-Ireland final so no one is going to want to relinquish what we've got over the last couple of years. It has the makings of a great final."
Maher believes that teams are conditioning themselves for physical games and there is an acceptance from all involved, helped by the nature of the last two All-Ireland finals, that this is the way it is going to be.
"Teams are training that way to be more physical and I think referees are buying into it as well," said Maher.
"It is the best way to have it because all the players are getting to express themselves with their hurling and physically as well. Both teams, Tipperary and Kilkenny, like that and the two finals over the last two years the referees have suited that. So let it off."
The bookies have Maher, last year's All-Ireland U-21 winning captain, at second favourite for Hurler of the Year behind Lar Corbett. The price, 4/1, looks more than a little attractive given the consistency of performances he has delivered this season.
When teams look to plan against Tipperary, Maher is increasingly in their thoughts.
Dublin tried to keep him out of the game in much the same way that Tipperary kept Tommy Walsh out of last year's All-Ireland final -- by keeping as much of the play out of his zone as possible.
And many believe that Michael Rice, one of Kilkenny's established midfielders of the last few seasons, has been posted to right half-forward this season specifically with Maher in mind for an All-Ireland final.
If Rice can profit and curtail the powerful Maher, who has added scoring to his repertoire this season with four points, then Kilkenny will have one major advantage on last year's game.
Maher is nonplussed about the opponent he will face or the diversionary tactics that may unfold around him.
"I don't think it makes a difference who you are marking. Kilkenny, along with Tipperary, probably have the best forwards in the country," he said.
"It's up to you to win your own battle and hopefully the team will win their battle overall. It comes back to hard work again and teamwork.
"I think you go with the instinct. The way it worked out against Dublin, a lot of ball was hit down the far side. You go along with the way the game is played, you go along with your instinct."
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