Tuesday 24 October 2017

And how the stars of the past once earned their stripes

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

MONSIGNOR Tommy Maher, who turned 90 in April, is the only man to have coached the Kilkenny hurling team for longer than Brian Cody.

His groundwork in analysing and simplifying the skills of the game helped transform hurling.

Our photograph by Tom Brett shows Fr Maher coaching players at Nowlan Park in the 1970s.

Two of them, Brian Cody and Nicky Brennan, went on to achieve remarkable things.

A new book identifies Fr Maher as the man responsible for a hurling renaissance in Kilkenny and further afield.

'The Godfather of Modern Hurling -- The Father Tommy Maher Story', by award-winning GAA writer Enda McEvoy, documents how the priest catalogued skills he'd acquired intuitively as a child.

Along with Dubliner Des Ferguson, and Tipperary's Donie Nealon, he forensically examined the game in the mid-1960s.

More than 80 different skills were identified. Their findings gave rise to the famous Gormanston coaching courses, which sowed the seeds of All-Ireland successes for Galway, Offaly and Clare.

"Until he met Fr Maher, Donie Nealon had never realised how effective the handpass could be in clearing one's lines and moving up the field,'' said Mr McEvoy.

Fr Maher put the emphasis on hurling as a simple game of complex skills. He coached his county to seven All-Irelands between 1957 and 1978. But his real legacy, Mr McEvoy argues, has been the success of the current Kilkenny team.

'The Godfather of Modern Hurling' is published by Ballpoint Press and will be launched by GAA president Liam O'Neill in Langton's in Kilkenny on Thursday.

Irish Independent

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