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Maher can't wait for the physical intensity of scorned Cats

THE last two All-Ireland hurling finals attained classic status almost before the ink had dried on the following day's newspaper eulogies.

Clearly, this was mostly down to the 30 starting players and various impact subs from Tipperary and Kilkenny. If PJ Ryan and Tommy Walsh and Martin Comerford delivered the brush strokes of genius for Kilkenny in '09, it was Lar Corbett and Brendan Maher and his namesake, Pádraic, who painted a Premier masterpiece last September.

Someone, though, had to provide the canvas to allow these artists give full expression to their talent.

And on All-Ireland final day, that person is the man in the middle.

The last two deciders have not just been thrilling to watch, they've been full-blooded in the extreme. That classic GAA euphemism, playing on the edge, springs to mind. Which calls to mind another GAA cliché as applied to referees, letting it flow.

Both Diarmuid Kirwan of Cork in 2009 and Michael Wadding of Waterford last year did just that. Whereas Wadding escaped relatively unscathed for his solid officiating of a feisty affair, Kirwan attracted plenty of flak -- especially from Tipp supporters agitated by his decision to award Richie Power a pivotal penalty, duly converted by Henry Shefflin.


But if Kirwan's overall performance was deemed to be overly lenient, there is a growing body of opinion that this is how the top counties like it.

Just ask Pádraic Maher.

"Against Kilkenny it's such a physical game. You don't really feel the hits until the morning after because you're (playing) at such a high intensity and you're so into the game at the time," the Tipperary wing-back enthuses.

"That's the best way to play the games really, the way Tipp and Kilkenny are going at it for the last number of years. They are such exciting games to watch, and even to play in -- they're fantastic.

"Kilkenny are going to bring a massive physical edge to the game. I thought we brought that last year -- and we have to bring it this year again."

He may be only 22 but Maher is built to take the hits. Reporters speaking to him at Tipperary's All-Ireland press day last week would testify that he's a horse of a young man in the flesh.

And the stats prove it -- he's 6ft 1in and weighs in at 14st 11lbs.

As a high-fielding wing-back with a barnstorming style, Maher relishes the physical challenge that Kilkenny invariably bring to the table. He also embraces the type of 'light-touch regulation' seemingly favoured by referees at the business end of the hurling championship.

"Teams are training that way, to be more physical," the Thurles Sarsfields man confirms. "I think referees are buying into it a bit as well. For me, it's the best way to have it because all the players are getting to express themselves -- hurling and physically as well."

Still, as Maher is quick to clarify, he doesn't mind how the game is refereed so long as Tipp are still clasping Liam MacCarthy come 5pm this Sunday.


He's anticipating a "massive challenge" from Kilkenny, partly because of last year's All-Ireland hurt but also because -- well -- that's what you get from a Brian Cody team.

"Basically, it's going to be a matter of the referee throwing in the ball, and let the two teams go at it," he suggests.

"People are saying they're not the team they were, but to me Kilkenny have been in the league final, they've been in the Leinster final and now they're in the All-Ireland final again.

"We are going to have to up what we did last year, because Kilkenny are going to be a hungrier team this year -- not the fact that they're playing us, but the fact that they lost what they had won so many times in the last couple of years.

"It's going to be a fantastic game, and a very tough game -- probably the hardest we've played as a group."

Time for Brian Gavin to throw in that sliotar ...