Maher sets sights on return to glory days
HE has experienced both sides of the coin as a minor hurler against Galway at Croke Park. In 1996, William Maher was captain of the Tipperary team that defeated the Tribesmen on All-Ireland final day, but a year later the roles were reversed and it was tears, rather than cheers, for souvenirs.
Maher is Tipp's minor manager now and the wheel has truly come full circle. Croke Park was a very different place when he played there, but the inner sanctum of GAA HQ is not totally unfamiliar to the Ballingarry native.
In 2007, he was coaching the Dublin minor hurlers when they played Wexford in the Leinster championship. "That's the last time I was in a dressing-room at Croke Park," Maher smiles.
Shay Boland was Dublin manager then and continues to make waves with his emerging Sky Blues. Dublin are safely through to a second successive All-Ireland final and on September 9, they'll face holders Galway, or Tipp, the reigning Munster champions.
"Coaching the Dublin minors was my first foray into inter-county management," Maher explains. "It was a very enjoyable time and Dublin have fantastic hurlers. They're big, young fellas, able to hurl and with huge skill levels.
"We saw what they did to Kilkenny, winning by five points on a bad day in Portlaoise. They have big players, like we saw last Sunday, who delivered in the end. They didn't panic and that's a fair sign of 17 and 18-year-olds."
Tipp have learned plenty against Dublin in challenge games but haven't faced Galway on the practice circuit. But Maher watched Mattie Murphy's All-Ireland champions wallop Wexford by 4-20 to 2-11 in the recent quarter-final.
Just three Galway players survive from the starting line-up against Dublin in last year's final, but Maher insists: "Galway have all the aces. They have a man who has won six All-Ireland minor titles as manager, they are the reigning champions, and have won five minor All-Irelands since 2000.
"I saw them against Wexford and they're a formidable side. They have the full-back from last year (Paul Killeen), the centre-back (Sean Sweeney) and the wing-forward Jason Flynn. They're a fantastic hurling team, strong everywhere.
"And they're very used to Croke Park -- and used to winning in Croke Park. It's a massive challenge for us, but our lads are focused on the job at hand."
It's almost two years ago since Galway and Tipp met in the All-Ireland U-16 final. John McGrath -- younger brother of senior star Noel -- scored 0-11 on that occasion and he's one of eight players from that team that could play tomorrow. Tipp won that U-16 final by 17 points at Semple Stadium, but the margins will be much tighter now.
For Maher, the memories are sure to come flooding back: "I have the distinction of winning in 1996 and being beaten in '97. I have a 50pc record against Galway. They're a serious side at minor level but if we can spring a performance, we'll see where that leads us. I'd be a very competitive person and this is what I live for. I love the white heat of championship and I can't wait for Sunday. To go to Croke Park and be involved with a Tipperary minor team. That's what I've always dreamed of since I was small."