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League title more vital for Maher than bragging rights

THE intricacies of the Tipperary/Kilkenny rivalry may be one of hurling's most well-worn tomes but Brendan Maher (right) is insistent that the greater personal motivation this week is the physical prize on offer.

"League title, hands down," he says immediately when asked whether watching Shane McGrath lift the trophy in Nowlan Park or a second 2013 win over their border nemesis is of greater value for Tipperary on Sunday.

"I don't have a league medal, it's the only medal I've failed to achieve so far," he points out.

"I came in a year too late and I missed the '08 one. It's a league medal and I'd be hoping to win a few of them, to be honest with you. I want to try and win as many medals as possible and hopefully Sunday is the first of a few of them."

Moreover, he's simply happy to be fit, in form and hurling with confidence again. A broken ankle sustained in his back garden, of all places, back in March 2011 ruined that summer and he admits now with the aid of hindsight that the debilitating effects spilled right through into last year, a low point, both for him personally and, indeed, Tipperary hurling.

"Physically, it's just you come back within whatever length of time it takes. Mentally, it has an effect. You're trying to get your place ball and your confidence back. That doesn't come easy when you're playing high intensity games as you're not eased back into it.

"My confidence wasn't as high as it should have been last year," he adds. "Myself and Shane (McGrath) would have talked about that when we were playing together, we weren't as confident as we should have been. I'm just thankful that I'm back hurling where I should be so far this year."

Himself and McGrath, more peripheral figures in the past two years than their showings in 2010 would have suggested they would become, are respective vice-captain and captain this year and already Eamon O'Shea's arrival appears to have brought some healing powers for a group burned badly by annihilation at Kilkenny's cold hands in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

"I think we are on our way to becoming a good team again," he explains.

"I think after the disappointment of the semi-final last year, there were a lot of people writing us off and saying we were dead and buried and that Galway and Kilkenny are the top two now.

"They are at the moment, they are still the top two, but we are just on the way and trying to prove we are still a good team and that we are on our way to getting some success again."

Maher adds: "Sunday is a great opportunity to get some silverware and try get to back up to that level again."