Saturday 18 August 2018

Maher: I prefer to go out and throw off shackles

Brendan Maher and Cillian Buckley
Brendan Maher and Cillian Buckley

Michael Verney

For Brendan Maher, life is all about finding a balance that works. While many in the GAA world bemoan the commitment and dedication which an inter-county career demands, the 2016 All-Ireland SHC-winning captain has learned the benefits of "switching off" and relaxing when outside the white lines of battle.

Having a life outside of hurling can be difficult - as detailed by former Tipperary team-mate Kieran Bergin earlier this year - with regular rumours circulating of players' off-field behaviour, but Maher has learned to develop a thick skin and sticks to his own particular formula.

"You'd be afraid that something would be said about you and next thing you're dropped. That still exists, definitely in Tipperary. If I went into a pub to have a pint next week even, I'd be getting quare looks from people," he explained.

"There's always that comparison to rugby and they seem to have a really good balance but we're not quite there yet in the GAA. It's getting better but it's up the individual again. I don't mind doing that, I don't mind having a drink now in Borrisoleigh.

"Even after a league game I might go in and have a pint or two to meet the lads and have a chat and that's it then, I'd go home. A few years ago I might have been worried about what people would say, 'oh he was out drinking till this time or that time'."

It's often incorrectly used as a stick to beat players with - as was the case in many quarters following the Premier's shock league final defeat to Galway and subsequent Munster SHC loss to Cork last season - but 29-year-old Maher thrives when constraints are loosened.

"I find my hurling is better when I'm more relaxed and I'm not thinking about it too much," he explained.

Instinct

"When I'm putting a bit of focus into things outside of sport like work and that, I find I enjoy hurling more. Hurling is a game of instinct," Maher said.

"You need to be free to play it and I find I don't perform well when I'm over-thinking and going into my shell a bit thinking, 'am I doing the right thing?'.

"I prefer to go out and throw off the shackles, that's what suits me."

Lessons have been learned from last year where Michael Ryan's side "put too much pressure" on themselves, with Maher quick to acknowledge that the obsession to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles drove them too far.

"It's no secret, that I think we over-trained, did too much. We were so conscious of not being complacent that we ended up over-training and just drained ourselves. And that wasn't the manager's fault. As a group of players we were conscious of it," he says.

"Always on to each other, 'we need to keep going, keep going'. And I suppose maybe we just overreached. The disappointment of the league final then knocked us back, and we found ourselves reaching, and trying to claw it back, that form and flow."

Despite looking a shadow of the side that romped to Liam MacCarthy success in 2016, Tipp made it to the All-Ireland semi-final only to fall to eventual champions Galway by a point, something which pleased the Borris-Ileigh man, given the circumstances.

Another chance to put the record straight awaits against Kilkenny in Sunday's Allianz NHL final in what will be their 10th decider in the past decade, with the Cats holding six wins and two losses. With a record like that, Maher was never writing off Brian Cody's men, despite signs of a slip in standards.

"Having played against them and watched, all that talk about the demise of Kilkenny, we never bought into. If you have played against them, you just know. There was no way that they were going away. It comes as no surprise to us," the two-time All-Star said.

With Seamus Callanan absent with a back injury but expected to return for the Munster round-robin series, no current Tipp panellist has a league medal to his name and the Premier are gunning to get back on track with a national title.

Youngsters including Alan Flynn, Barry Heffernan, Billy McCarthy and Willie Connors have been blooded during the spring with emphasis being placed on building squad strength.

Four championship games within 21 days will push them to the limits in terms of personnel but they look well equipped and Maher expects it to be a "savage" provincial campaign.

"You might see more expansive open games because you are not going to see that level of preparation between the games. There are not going to be huge tactical discussions, you will only have six days to prepare," he said.

"You will see some great games. The Munster championship will be savage. There are five teams who can all win and it is going to be cut-throat stuff. It is going to be tough and there are going to be challenges."

Irish Independent

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