Maher single-minded in bid for elusive medal
A DAZZLER of an engagement ring sits on Therese Maher's left hand and she is getting married in December.
Yet it is not seating-plans or dress fittings that are consuming her this weekend, but her enduring and unrequited love affair with camogie.
A three-time All Star winner, the elegant Galway half-forward has played in three All-Ireland senior finals (1997, '98 and '08) yet lost all three.
Of the team who take on Wexford in tomorrow's decider, only Veronica Curtin, Galway's other brilliant veteran, has been around longer.
'Ronny' is the only team member already married and she, at least, has the consolation of being involved when Galway won their last title in 1996.
Maher has also led Athenry to two All-Ireland club finals in 2007 and 2009, only to be thwarted there too, each time by Cashel of Tipperary.
Back in '96 she was still a teenager and one of the county minor team that had just won an All-Ireland.
Her brothers, Vinny and John played for the county and, with two sisters -- Dympna (midfield) and Greta (came on as a sub) -- involved in the '96 victory, she presumed senior success would come her way.
Thirteen years later she's still waiting.
Galway camogie has been through various upheavals in the meantime, yet Curtin and Maher have remained its constant and inspirational leaders, so it's particularly fitting that she is captain as they go knocking on the door again.
"After 1998 we didn't get back to a final for another 10 years, so it was a long wait," Maher reflects.
"I came on as a sub in 1997 and played in the '98 final and I've only missed one year since when I chose to play in America in the summer of 2001 which was a great experience."
So how, after so much heartbreak, has she found the motivation to stay involved?
"I suppose you just stay playing because you love it," Maher says cheerfully.
"There's a group of girls you enjoy playing with, year in, year out, and every season you go back and say 'right, maybe this year'.
"We won a few national leagues and a few inter-pros, and in the championship there's been some years where it was just a point, very marginal stuff that you lost by, so you think: 'God, with a little bit of more effort next year'.
"The desire is there still to win that one medal that has eluded me," Maher admits.
"We lost last year's semi-final (to Kilkenny) in the fourth minute of injury-time. The ball broke down in our half-back line, there was one quick delivery into the full-forward line and a goal. That was particularly hard to take. But you dust yourself off," she adds.
"Come January or February everyone's getting the gear out and you're like 'will I or won't I? And if I don't, will I miss something?'"
Galway's progress back to their second final in three years got new impetus with the arrival of Noel Finn as senior manager this season.
He led the county to All-Ireland intermediate success last year and brought a handful of that team with him to strengthen the seniors.
After taking the ultimate scalp; that of treble-chasing Cork in a replayed semi-final, is there more pressure on them now?
"Well we got two hard, physical games against Cork, but on the other side Wexford were in Croke Park in 2007 and have the experience of winning, so they'll be favourites," Maher asserts.
"Cork had been in the last eight finals and have been huge ambassadors so it was a huge task and very encouraging to beat them, even if it was only by a point the second day.
"The scoreline was just 0-10 to 0-9 -- it wasn't exactly an epic encounter, but if it was 0-4 to 0-3 I'd take a win any day, especially tomorrow."