Down Under cricket swap leaves Tipperary's Brendan Maher bowled over
On the odd occasion that he watched cricket at home on the television, Brendan Maher would think to himself, 'I could do that'.
Being one of the top hurlers in the country, the Tipperary captain believed that his hand-eye coordination and reflexes would be good enough to survive in a different sport.
But just a few days into an Australian experiment with Big Bash franchise Adelaide Strikers, the 27-year-old double All Star admits that he couldn't have been more wrong.
"I have to be honest," said Maher. "Not that I wouldn't have respected them, I just didn't have the interest in it.
"But having spent a just few hours with the bowlers and having seen it up close, I'm thinking about it differently. The bowlers are phenomenal athletes and when you see them up close, you think that these lads are different animals.
"I couldn't believe the pace they were bowling at," said the former Young Hurler of the Year. "It was just unbelievable, but it's what I'm going to have to deal with.
"At first I actually stood behind the wicket and there are 22 yards between wickets, which seems like a big distance.
"But when the ball is coming at 100, 120, 130kmh they tell you there's just 0.3 of a second to react."
Maher is Down Under for a week as part of a swap-deal sponsored by long-time All-Ireland Club Championship backers AIB. AIB has commissioned The Toughest Trade 2; a cutting-edge documentary film as part of its #TheToughest campaign.
Last year's film featured Kilkenny hurler Jackie Tyrrell, retired Armagh star Aaron Kernan, former England soccer international David Bentley and baseball great Brian Schneider and now Maher is in front of the cameras. Any thoughts he may have had of battering the ball about the oval were quickly dismissed.
Cricket, even the quicker Twenty20 game which Maher is trying and which is far quicker than five-day Test matches, is about choosing the right shots at the right time.
"That's going to be a big challenge for me; keeping control of the bat and keeping it close to my body," said the primary school teacher, who is taking unpaid leave from work in order to travel to Australia for the week.
"Hurling is so open and you use your shoulders so the natural reaction for me will be just to let fly.
"You have to keep the bat close to your body and let the ball come to you rather than stepping out and leaving yourself open. Your first stance is very important to allow you to make those subtle changes. That's something I'm going to have to try and work on."
Maher is grateful to new Tipperary manager Michael Ryan for allowing him the time off pre-season training to try out the life of a professional sportsman for a week. While his Tipp team-mates are training in the muck, cold and dark in Ireland, he has the sun on his back as he enjoys a brand new experience.
"Just to get the idea of their lifestyle, how they train, because I wouldn't know, is great," he explained. "I know strength and conditioning is getting more popular over there now and I'll learn a bit about that and what they do.
"I'm looking forward to learning about that because I have a strength and conditioning qualification myself.
"That's definitely something and then there's the lifestyle of a professional sportsperson - having time to yourself during the middle of the day or going home after training for a nap, stuff we don't get to do."