Sport Hurling

Saturday 24 August 2019

Life perspective clears the fog of defeat quickly for Maher

Interview

Tipperary's Brendan Maher. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tipperary's Brendan Maher. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Not long after Tipperary's Munster hurling final defeat to Limerick two weeks ago, Brendan Maher met the husband of his first cousin, a young woman who had lost her life to cancer in recent months.

If there was any sense of emptiness from the taxing afternoon his team spent in LIT Gaelic Grounds, the vacuum was quickly filled up with reserves of perspective.

Limerick had out-hurled, out-thought and out-muscled them in a way that no one could have imagined, so much optimism briefly shattered. But then.

"We've had a bit of tragedy in Borrisoleigh this year. We had a young fella who unfortunately had a tragic death there a couple of months ago as well," he recalled. There was also the death of another young woman, Amanda Stapleton, brother of Maher's former Tipperary team-mate Paddy and Cuala's double All-Ireland club winner Shane.

"That's stuff is still very raw in the club and in the town. You start talking to people like that and you realise you're not going to start feeling sorry for yourself about losing a game. Your perspective and your outlook changes. That would have come the last couple of years with age and experience," said Maher (right),

"I'm definitely approaching things a lot differently. I'm enjoying it a lot more. I don't take criticism to heart, I don't take setbacks as setbacks anymore. It's just a bit of a roadblock and you get over it."

He has had other significant and recent experiences to draw upon, having spent a lot of the last year rehabilitating from a cruciate ligament tear sustained in their last Munster Championship round-robin fixture of 2018.

The disappointment of a campaign that fell so far short of expectation was quickly set aside too as he focused on his own future.

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Instantly he began working on building up the muscle around his knees in the knowledge that it would benefit him and buy him more time at the other end of the recovery. But in the back of his mind was the question as to whether he would hurl at the same level again.

The date for surgery under Ray Moran in Santry was July 20 so he put himself through a strenuous six weeks in preparation, getting over to Toomevara for physio every day.

"That's probably one thing others don't get the chance to do or maybe don't put as much focus on. There was massive amounts of pain when I was doing stuff but I knew the damage was done and I wasn't going to do any more.

"That stood to me majorly. I was able to do everything quicker after the surgery because I had the strength in my leg.

"Even though I was gutted that we were out of the championship I was facing something completely different where I was thinking, 'Am I going to get back hurling at all?' Like, I'd never been faced with an injury like that and you hear all the cases of 'he was never right after that' so my focus shifted straight away.

"Disappointment was there but I was like, 'I don't need to think about that, I've more worries here. I need to focus on myself and I want to get back hurling'. That was a tough time but it was probably the most important, getting that work done."

Meanwhile, Michael Ryan left and by October Liam Sheedy, who had given Maher his debut almost 10 years earlier, was back for a 'second coming'.

"I was going through a tough phase of recovery because I was going to the gym and everything on my own and it's very hard to get through those sessions when you don't have other lads there. But Liam's return gave me a lift. I was saying, 'I want to get back playing under that lad and get back amongst the team and the group'."

By the middle of March he was back hurling competitively and in recent months he has underlined his value with strong man-marking performances on Clare's Tony Kelly, Waterford's Austin Gleeson and, more recently, when dropping to the full-back line, on Limerick's Aaron Gillane.

"I spoke before the Limerick game, talking about the different positions that I had played in and made a joke about how Sheedy had shoved me to corner-back at minor and I hadn't forgiven him for it. Those were the words I used and literally a couple of days later the conversation was that, 'Cathal was touch and go so you're going to go in there if he doesn't make it'. It's funny how it comes back.

"I kind of ended up as a full-back more than anything because with the way Aaron plays he tends to position himself in front of the goals a lot, which probably suited me a little bit more."

He'll draw something from his 2010 experience, when Tipperary lost to Cork by 10 points in May but still won an All-Ireland title in September. This time the recovery period is much shorter.

"It (2010) definitely gives you a bit of belief. It was obviously hugely disappointing to lose a Munster final. It was the first time our group of my age lost a Munster final. But it's a loss and you move on."

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